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Sports

February 8, 2014

Russia kicks off Sochi Games with hope

SOCHI, Russia (AP) — A crowning achievement of Vladimir Putin’s Russia kicked off Friday with a celebration of its past greatness and hopes for future glory, most especially for a raucous group of Russian athletes who marched into the rollicking opening ceremony of the Sochi Olympics with a message.

To the best athletes in the world, who they’ve invited to the edge of the Black Sea to compete on ice and snow, amid concerns about terrorism and criticism of intolerance of gay people, they sang: you’re “not gonna get us.”

Just after the sun set over the Caucasus Mountains and along the seashore just outside Fisht Stadium in the wet-paint-fresh Olympic Park, Russian TV star Yana Churikova shouted to a crowd still taking their seats: “Welcome to the center of the universe!”

For the next two weeks, it certainly is for the 3,000 athletes who will compete in 98 events, more people and contests than ever at the Winter Games.

It will be, too, for all those worried the games will be a target for terrorism, fears of which were stoked during the ceremony itself when a passenger aboard a flight bound for Istanbul said there was a bomb on board and tried to divert the plane to Sochi. Authorities said the plane landed safely in Turkey.

The show opened with a hiccup, as the lighting of the five Olympic Rings overshadowed the singing of the Russian national anthem. Five snowflakes on cables drifted together above the stadium, and four of them turned into Olympic rings — but the fifth never unfurled and they all failed to erupt into white flames as planned.

Also missing from the show: Putin’s repression of dissent, those worries of terrorism and inconsistent security measures at the Olympics, which will take place just a few hundred miles (kilometers) away from the sites of an insurgency and routine militant violence. Also looked over: the tensions with the United States over neighboring Ukraine, NSA leaker Edward Snowden and Syria.

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