The large-scale pageantry of the Winter Olympics will be on display Friday, when the Opening Ceremony is held at Sochi, Russia. The ceremony at Fisht Stadium will be seen by 3 billion people worldwide, according to organizers.
The Opening Ceremony is virtually the only Olympic event that won’t be streamed online in the U.S., a decision NBC made to bolster its primetime broadcast tonight. While we track Friday’s event here, NPR’s pop-culture blogger Linda Holmes will give us her take on the ceremonies later tonight over at Monkey See.
We’re following the event and will post updates and images from the ceremony here.
Update at 12:55 p.m. ET: Ballet At The Fisht
Dozens (hundreds?) of dancers have spread around the stadium floor, dressed in gowns and formal military uniforms that evoke Russia’s past.
We don’t know the classical music playing, but there’s a lot of ballet talent on the floor of the stadium right now. A couple takes the spotlight, in what could also be a nod to the country’s excellent history in ice dance events (Russia’s top contenders for gold wear similar costumes).
Update at 12:45 p.m. ET: Sochi’s Gaffe: Not An Olympic First
From “peace doves burned alive” at the opener of the Seoul 1988 Olympics to the wrong flag being displayed during introductions at the London 2012 games, Sochi isn’t alone in enduring embarrassing moments at the Olympics. A recent Yahoo! story compiled a few of them.
Update at 12:40 p.m. ET: Three Horses Gallop In The Sky
In the darkened stadium, three horses gallop across the interior, with a red/yellow disc representing the sun (?) trailing behind them.
Then, people in colorful costumes and giant beings begin to dance around on the stadium floor.
In a beautiful moment, a group of Russia’s signature “onion dome” towers ascends high above the stadium floor.
Update at 12:30 p.m. ET: Too Cute Alert; Video Starts
Large and cute animals — a bear, a rabbit, a cat — are skiing and skating around, waving to the crowd. They’re like huge, graceful, friendly robots. Which, maybe they are.
Now a video presentation begins, a film called “The Russian Odyssey,” opening with stirring strings and a zoom-in from space into the Earth’s surface. Then, guys on the planet’s surface start to cut down trees. Before long, tough guys wearing heavy clothes are building things.
Update at 12:25 p.m. ET: Russians Are In The House
The Russian entourage has entered the stadium, and there are screams of joy. They wave, and the music shifts to a higher pitch, with loud stomping sounds.
Their entrance means we’re about to embark on more pageantry. If you’re still curious about the Cyrillic alphabet, PBS can help.
Update at 12:15 p.m. ET: About That Ring-Fail
NPR’s Tamara Keith, who’s in the stadium, writes for our On the Road Tumblr:
“This could well become the symbol of these Olympic Games. It was supposed to be a breathtaking moment. Snow was falling from the ceiling (it was an incredible effect) and the giant glowing snowflakes at the center of the stadium were to transforming into the five Olympic Rings.
“One of the snowflakes failed to open and suddenly it was breathtaking in an entirely different way, as if everyone realized at the same moment that something had gone wrong. It is already trending on Twitter. This isn’t the kind of display Russian organizers had in mind.”
NPR’s Robert Smith says: “Totally sad. It was designed as the defining moment. And then it was.”
Update at 12:05 p.m. ET: Who Goes First?
As many have noted, the national teams are entering the Olympic stadium in an order that can be confusing to Western audiences. The order in Sochi, as always, is alphabetical – in the language of the host country. There are two traditional exceptions: Greece goes first, and the host goes last.
Right now, for instance, Portugal is entering, followed by South Korea.
Update at 11:50 a.m. ET: The Athletes March
The mood in the stadium is buoyant as athletes begin to march out from a tunnel and around the stadium’s floor. There is music playing that we must describe as poppy techno. But we warn you: We’re experts in neither music nor horticulture.
The athletes are marching around the outskirts of the ice, which is bisected by a stripe in the center, from which they emerge to wave to the crowds.
Update at 11:40 a.m. ET: Everyone Gets A Medal
The ceremony will take on a bit of a Logan’s Run feel for some of us (especially the science fiction nerds), when colored discs glow on the chests of the tens of thousands of people in attendance.
From NPR’s Tamara Keith:
“Robert Smith and I are here inside Fisht Stadium. We’ve been given a 180 page media guide (half is in Russian) explaining the meaning behind the various elements of the ceremony. Everyone in the stadium will wear these nifty LED medals around our necks, which we’re told will light up at different points in the ceremony.”
Update at 11:30 a.m. ET: Putin, Dignitaries Introduced; Russia’s Anthem
The big “reveal” of the Olympic rings has failed, at least in part. But the show moves on. Russian President Vladimir Putin is introduced, along with International Olympics Committee chief Thomas Bach.
The Russian national anthem is sung by a large choir. A montage of the Olympic flame traveling to Sochi is played. This is a teaser — the flame won’t arrive til later.
Update at 11:25 a.m. ET: The Rings Appear — Four Of Them, At Least
Ice islands are floating around, and masses of people dressed in traditional winter outfits are walking across the ice and singing. Above them, the little girl sings.
The stadium’s floor is covered by rolling puffs of artificial smoke — a very effective look. Snow, or something like it, is now falling in the arena.
Large snowflakes that had been suspended above them are morphing and resolving themselves into the five intertwined Olympic rings. But there’s a misfire — one of the rings has not opened from its crystalline state into a smooth ring.
Update at 11:20 a.m. ET: Fly A Kite
A little girl in a white dress is standing alone on the ice, in the character of “Love”; she flies a kite. It then takes her into the air above the stadium’s floor. The crowd oohs and aahs. She rises into a floating village landscape, as rock islands drift around and ethereal choral music plays.
Update at 11:15 a.m. ET: The Olympics Are Open
The first video montage is playing in the stadium, where 40,000 people are watching scenes of Russian culture and history matched with letters of the alphabet. This promises a steady pace, we think.
Our original post continues:
While security concerns have led to tens of thousands of police and military being positioned around the venues, and reporters have complained about conditions in Sochi, the epic spectacle that is the opening ceremony could wash away many of those worries. And it will also bring the athletes closer to competing in events they’ve been training for since the 2010 Vancouver Games.
As the games begin, many observers believe three countries will vie for the most medals in Sochi: the United States, Norway, and Germany. But Canada also has an imposing team, and host Russia is intent on making its mark.
Here’s some more background on these Winter Games:
Sochi By The Numbers
- $51 billion budget (a record)
- 17 days of competition
- 6,000 athletes and team members
- 85 countries represented
- 98 medal events
- 15 disciplines in 7 sports
- 8 new ski and snowboarding events
- First time in history women will vie for medals in the ski jump