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Saturday, February 8, 2014

Four Rings, but Five Stars: The Opening Ceremony of the 2014 Winter Games

I know, I know, it’s another post about Russia. But these are the Olympics-and the first time Russia has ever hosted the Winter Games.

All eyes were on Sochi last night, and they delivered a dazzling show.

    The introduction video with the little girl and the reciting of the Russian (Cyrillic) alphabet was a creative and smart draw-in, even if they had to reach for things to associate with the letters Ъ, Ы, Ь, and Й. (Ъ, Ы, and Ь cannot start a word, and Й only rarely does. On the rare occasion that it does, it’s usually a word borrowed from another language.) Simple, to use the alphabet of the native tongue, but effective all the same. I imagine some people were confused to see a “3” in the middle of the reciting-that’s a Z in Russian, if you were wondering.

Russia is a country well-known for theatrics, whether it’s on the field of play (or ice, for that matter), the stage, or the silver screen. And what better way to start it with the singing of the Russian national anthem, arguably one of the most bombastic and proud anthems in the world. The only peculiarity was seeing the Russian flag stay put until the last chorus of the anthem, where it finally was hoisted up the flagpole.

A couple tidbits of information on the Russian anthem:

1. After communism fell, President Yeltsin brought in an old Патриотическая Песня (patriotic song) to replace the old Soviet anthem. Proud tune as it was, it didn’t have any words. Near the end of his presidency, he held a contest to give the song words. However, shortly after a winner was announced, Yeltsin resigned, and Putin came to power. Early in his first term, Putin did away with Yeltsin’s anthem, and reinstated the melody of the Soviet anthem, with new words. You can compare the text of both anthems here and here-all the references to communism, Lenin, and the “fluttering red banner” have been removed.

2. It’s not usually that long. There’s a shorter version, where the first verse and one chorus is sung, and this is commonly used at smaller events. At more important events, i.e. the Presidential Inauguration or Victory Day Parade, the full anthem-three verses and three choruses-is sung.

Anyways, back to the ceremony.

    Yes, the fifth snowflake-turned-Olympic ring didn’t open. Instead, it hung stubbornly in the air next to the other four rings as if it was a large asterisk. A similar problem occurred in the Vancouver Games when it was time to light the torch, but I honestly wouldn’t have known it was a mistake if the commentators hadn’t said so. Embarrassing, sure, but if that’s the worst thing that happens during these Olympics I think we can agree that that’s a victory in itself.
    I appreciated the early placing of the Parade of Nations, and I thought the projection of each country on the stadium floor was genius. As much as I like flags and seeing all the different countries march in, putting that part of the ceremony only before the torch-lighting makes it feel longer. At the very least it’s not the marathon that takes place every Summer Olympics. As a Boston Bruins fan it was pretty special to see captain Zdeno Chara carry the Slovak flag. On that note, it’s always awesome to see the United States march their Olympic team...Army, rather, into the stadium. Admittedly, I didn’t even recognize Sasha O (Alex Ovechkin) leading team Russia into the stadium. Last but not least, I imagine it was a bit awkward for the ex-Soviet countries to march in, especially Ukraine, where an uprising is taking place to distance that country from the Kremlin. 

    I didn’t see the choir perform Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky”, but I imagine it was something like this Russian sailor’s rendition of the Beatles’ “Let it Be”. It’s been a couple of years since I first saw that video and I still can’t decide if it was excellent or terrible.

UPDATE: I just watched the police choir perform. Absolutely, hilariously awesome.

    The Russian history segment was nothing short of mind-blowing. I never thought I’d see inflatable onion church domes, but there they were. Russia loves its ballet, and there was Swan Lake and the 19th Century romantic period-the days of Pushkin and Tolstoy. The navy segment was wonderful, but I was especially intrigued by the segment on Soviet history. The industrialization part was artsy and gaudy, but still wonderfully original. As for what came next, I’m not yet sure if I believe it was an over-simplified and glorified portrayal of what went on in daily life in the USSR or just a celebration of what the average Soviet citizen had, even if it wasn’t that much in the end. The nod to the Soviet propaganda posters was done beautifully and tastefully. No mention of Stalin or Lenin, of course, but the Russians love their nostalgia as we Americans do. I was pleasantly surprised and amused to hear Eduard Khil’s song “I am very glad, because I’m finally returning back home” (The internet famous “Trololo” song) during the Soviet baby boom.

    I couldn’t help but think that the Olympic cauldron looked exactly like the famous overhang on Stade Olympique (Olympic Stadium) in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Whether it was deliberate or not, the torch-lighting ceremony had just the right amount of bravado-and it was thrilling to see Maria Sharapova and Vladislav Treitiak carrying the flame. On a similar note, no other nation has the bragging rights to say that one of the people who carried the Olympic banner was VALENTINA TERESHKOVA, the first woman in space!

Overall, though, I am extremely proud of my country of origin today. Problems aside, Russia delivered, and I hope that these Olympics continue to be a success.

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