Updated: Fri, 07 Feb 2014 19:04:19 GMT | By Agence France-Presse

Sochi Winter Olympics opening ceremony: Live Report

19:03 GMT - Closing - As spectators leave the stadium, WE ARE NOW CLOSING this Live Report after a lavish opening ceremony for the Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia. 


Sochi Winter Olympics opening ceremony: Live Report

- by Yuri Kadobnov

The Games were officially opened by President Vladimir Putin amid a festival of fireworks, drama and music. 

The ceremony kicks off over two weeks of sporting action amid tight security and lingering controversy over Russia's gay rights laws. 

Keep following AFP's coverage of the Winter Olympics through to February 23.

18:57 GMT - Legends - Huge fireworks display follows that dramatic lighting of the flame by figure skater Rodnina and ice hockey legend Tretyak.

Rodnina won three Olympic figure skating pairs titles as well as 10 world titles. Tretyak was a goaltender with the legendary Red Machine side of the Soviet era that romped to Olympic gold in 1972, 1976 and 1984 as well as 10 world championship crowns.

18:54 GMT - Olympic flame lit - Irina Rodnina, Vladislav Tretyak light Sochi Winter Olympics cauldron

18:44 GMT - Flag bearers - Stuart Williams notes: "Interesting choice of Olympic flag bearers by Russia. 

"They include pro-Kremlin conductor Valery Gergiev and the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova. 

"Also, utterly bizarrely, there is a man named Alan Enileev who I have never heard of but is described as a "cyber-sportsman"  and the "best known virtual car racing driver in Russia".

18:30 GMT - Putin opens Olympics - President Vladimir Putin has officially opened the Games.

"I declare the Olympic Games open," Putin told the crowd.

Sochi Winter Olympics officially opened

18:25 GMT - A sculpture of a sickle during the opening ceremony

18:16 GMT - "Building bridges" - IOC President Thomas Bach praises Russia's efforts in staging the Games and the volunteers who are helping to make it happen.

"Olympic sport unites the people," he says. "Olympic Games are always about building bridges to bring people together.

"Olympic Games are never about erecting walls to keep people apart.

"Olympic Games are a sports festival embracing human diversity in great unity."

18:04 GMT - Historical memories - A perhaps surprisingly light-hearted recollection of the Soviet Union in the mid-20th century now.

Dynamic dance moves combine with the aesthetic of 1950s propaganda posters before a new Russia is symbolically born.

We move on to pictures of the Olympic flame being carried through present-day Russia.

17:58 GMT - Revolution and war - Back at the opening ceremony, we have moved on to the 1917 revolution.

The stadium is bathed in red light as dancers parade giant wheels and cogs, symbolising the Soviet economy.

A highly sensitive and controversial period in history to attempt to navigate in this kind of show -- and now it continues on to World War Two.

17:54 GMT - Failed hijack bid confirmed - Turkish officials have just confirmed that report from earlier that one of its jet fighters forced down an airliner from Ukraine after a would-be hijacker on board brandishing a detonator ordered it to fly to Sochi.

The plane landed in Istanbul after an F-16 was scrambled.

17:50 GMT - US fans face delay - Winter sports fans in the US will not be able to watch all of this for some 12 hours yet.

AFP's Mick Thurston in Los Angeles tells us: "Some viewers in the US were left frustrated as the NBC network, which has Sochi broadcast rights, did not run opening ceremony live, instead plugging a broadcast of it to air Friday evening, some 12 hours after the event itself.

"On NBC’s main channel, morning news co-anchors did a segment about the Olympics, saying they were really looking forward to watching the opening ceremony later, even AS the ceremony was taking place.

"NBC has done this in past, most recently with London 2012, triggering howls of protest from US Olympic viewers."

17:47 GMT - Natasha's dance - Now the ceremony is referencing one of the greatest works of Russian literature, Tolstoy's "War And Peace".

Ballet dancers recreate one of the book's most famous scenes in which the female heroine, Natasha Rostova, joins in a peasant dance.

AFP's Stuart Williams tells us: "Some of Russia’s greatest ballet stars are currently on stage... Svetlana Zakharova of the Bolshoi is accompanied by the dashing Danila Korsuntsev of the Mariinsky in the ball scene from “War and Peace”. 

"The brilliant Ivan Vasiliev brought the stadium down with astonishing leaps. Also dancing is one of the most legendary of all Soviet ballet stars, Vladimir Vasiliev."

17:40 GMT - Peter the Great - We've now moved on from the parade of the athletes to a dramatisation of illustrious parts of Russian history, recalling Peter the Great.

The 18th century emperor turned Russia into a major imperial force, projecting an image of power and strength which Putin will hope to identify with.

17:33 GMT - The Russian delegation at the opening ceremony

17:28 GMT - "Hijack attempt" - Some more serious news coming in away from Sochi now -- a Ukrainian man has attempted to hijack an airliner en route from Ukraine to Turkey and divert it to Sochi, Turkish media reports say.

The man claimed there was a bomb on board the Pegasus Airlines plane with 110 passengers on board but military jets were scrambled and the plane was forced to land in Istanbul. 

Turkish anti-terrorist commandos and armed police were searching all the passengers the aircraft for explosives, the reports said.

Another reminder of the security concerns surrounding this Games.

17:21 GMT - All hail Russia - The crowd goes crazy as the Russian team arrives. 

The music is turned up loud and the VIP guests -- including a smiling Putin -- clap along to the pumping Daft Punk remix.

The Russian athletes are wearing blue and red coats trimmed with white and traditional-looking Russian hats.

The host country's big hopes include its figure skaters such as superstar Evgeni Plushenko and the men's ice hockey.

This is a party atmosphere now.

17:20 GMT - The US delegation at the opening ceremony

17:17 GMT - Ukraine flag - Yanukovych waves a Ukrainian flag as his country's team passes in the stadium, AFP's Benoit Finck tells us.

17:14 GMT - Ukraine cheers - Huge cheer for the Ukrainian athletes as they enter the stadium, AFP's John Weaver tells us.

The country is in crisis over after mass protests erupted in November when President Viktor Yanukovych rejected a pact with the EU in favour of closer ties with Russia, its old Soviet master.

Yanukovych is attending today's opening ceremony despite the instability at home.

17:05 GMT - USA, USA - Team USA emerges now -- 230 members, the largest delegation ever.

The US boycotted the 1980 Moscow Games so this is their first attendance at a Games in Russia. 

Among their star performers are downhill skier Bode Miller and snowboarder Shaun White -- but another skiing icon, Lindsey Vonn, is out with injury.

US President Barack Obama is not attending the ceremony, a move seen by many as a snub over Russia's now notorious anti-gay law.

17:05 GMT - USA, USA - Team USA emerges now -- 230 members, the largest delegation ever.

The US boycotted the 1980 Moscow Games so this is their first attendance at a Games in Russia. 

Among their star performers are downhill skier Bode Miller and snowboarder Shaun White -- but another skiing icon, Lindsey Vonn, is out with injury.

US President Barack Obama is not attending the ceremony, a move seen by many as a snub over Russia's now notorious anti-gay law.

16:56 GMT - "Absolutely awesome" - "It was chilling and amazing. Absolutely awesome. Well worth the wait. Really happy we are here,” said Australian bobsleigh competitor Heath Spence, speaking after parading through the stadium.

16:56 GMT - "Absolutely awesome" - "It was chilling and amazing. Absolutely awesome. Well worth the wait. Really happy we are here,” said Australian bobsleigh competitor Heath Spence, speaking after parading through the stadium.

16:48 GMT - Bermuda shorts - Maria Sharapova seems to be particularly appreciating the Bermudan team.

"Bermuda wearing shorts...love it! 6 degrees in the stadium ," she tweets.

16:47 GMT - Belarussian entry - AFP's Stuart Williams tells us: "Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko stands to greet the Belarussian team. As usual, he has brought along his young extra-marital son Nikolai (Kolya) who also stands up and waves shyly. Other leaders look on bewildered."

16:43 GMT - Venezuelan verve - Huge cheer for the one-man Venezuelan team. Antonio Jose Pardo Andretta, a 43-year-old Alpine skier, dances with his country's flag through the stadium.

Great story behind him -- he survived cancer as a child and only took up ski racing in recent months after losing his job.

16:42 GMT - Festivities begin at Sochi 2014 Olympic Games

16:33 GMT - Athletes' parade - The athletes have started parading into the stadium. Greece then Australia, to loud cheers. It may not make sense in English but they are proceeding according to the Russian alphabet.

16:28 GMT - Olympic ring glitch - There was a slight malfunction earlier as one of the Olympic rings didn't open properly during the snowflake presentation.

But now we've moved on to a high-tech electronic display featuring the Olympic flag and all seems to have returned to working smoothly.

16:28 GMT - Olympic ring glitch - There was a slight malfunction earlier as one of the Olympic rings didn't open properly during the snowflake presentation.

But now we've moved on to a high-tech electronic display featuring the Olympic flag and all seems to have returned to working smoothly.

16:26 GMT - The opening ceremony gets under way

16:24 GMT - Putin and anthem - President Vladimir Putin is presented to the crowd. He's seen as the driving force behind Russia's first Olympics since Moscow in 1980. Everyone stands for the Russian national anthem.

16:20 GMT - Stunning snowscape - A magnificent set featuring mountains, islands and a snowy tundra has been revealed in the stadium with a young girl acting as our narrator apparently flying through it all, suspended from wires.

She is joined on stage by a huge choir offering a dramatic, theatrical opening. This is going to be quite a show by the look of it. 

16:18 GMT - And they're off - The ceremony gets with a huge, stadium-shaking fireworks display.

16:15 GMT - Sochi Winter Olympics opening ceremony underway

16:14 GMT - Russian alphabet - We're now being shown a slick film running through the Russian alphabet and highlighting great Russians and achievements, from Tchaikovsky to Gagarin.

16:12 GMT - Starting soon... - We are now just moments away from the start of the ceremony...

16:09 GMT - Sharapova in Sochi - Among the celebrities attending the opening ceremony is tennis star Maria Sharapova, whose home town is Sochi. 

"Just arrived at the Olympic Stadium for the #OpeningCeremony #solucky" she tweets.

16:04 GMT - Volunteers ski near the Olympic Rings at Rosa Khutor, near Sochi

16:02 GMT - Tatu tease - Meanwhile, Tatu have been on stage at the pre-ceremony.

"Tatu hold hands at the end of their performance, make as if to kiss... but then don't," AFPTV's Reuben Easey tells us.

15:59 GMT - Chaos en route - AFP's Sim Sim Wissgott tells us that it is "pretty chaotic" trying to get to the stadium for the opening ceremony.

"Lots of people headed for Fisht but told they have to enter elsewhere (incl this journalist). Looking for another entrance. Told I have to go thru Adler. But just passed it on ring road and no signs anywhere," she writes.

15:56 GMT - Stars to watch at Sochi - Stars to watch at Sochi

15:52 GMT - Lighting the flame - Who will light the Olympic flame? That's the big question ahead of the ceremony and the answer is still shrouded in mystery.

Internet rumours suggest it could be 2004 Olympic rhythmic gymnastics champion Alina Kabayeva, long been rumoured to be Russian President Vladimir Putin's lover. 

The person -- to be chosen by the Sochi organising committee -- is widely expected to be a successful Russian sports star of international fame. 

Despite his action man image, Putin insists there is no chance of him doing it himself.

15:48 GMT - Army does Daft Punk - Maxime Mamet reports that Russian army choirs are now attempting a rendition of Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" in the pre-ceremony.

Unsurprisingly, it is going down a lot better than an earlier performance of Russian folk songs.

15:43 GMT - We Are The Champions - AFP's Maxime Mamet tells us that contestants from the Russian version of talent show "The Voice" have been performing a version of Queen's "We Are The Champions" in the pre-ceremony.

15:43 GMT - We Are The Champions - AFP's Maxime Mamet tells us that contestants from the Russian version of talent show "The Voice" have been performing a version of Queen's "We Are The Champions" in the pre-ceremony.

15:33 GMT - Excitement builds - AFP's John Weaver, part of the team covering from Sochi, writes: "Excitement building outside the Fisht Olympic Stadium. A huge ring of volunteers joining hands and running rings… around the Olympic rings."

15:29 GMT - Games opening - WELCOME to AFP's Live Report on the Winter Olympics opening ceremony at Sochi on Russia's Black Sea coast. 

This marks the moment the Games finally get under way after months of controversy over gay rights and construction delays. 

The opening ceremony, starting at 2014 local time (1614 GMT) in the new 40,000 seater Fisht Stadium, will showcase Russia and its history to the rest of the world. 

Costing an estimated $50 billion, Sochi will be the most expensive Winter Olympics in history. 

Security is tight, particularly after 34 people died in two suicide blasts in the city of Volgograd in December, blamed on extremists from the Northern Caucasus region. 

President Vladimir Putin is seen as the driving force behind the Games and will attend the opening ceremony along with more than 40 other leaders. 

But US President Barack Obama will not be among them. His absence is being seen as a snub to Russia after it passed a law banning the spread of "gay propaganda" to minors.

15:29 GMT - Games opening - WELCOME to AFP's Live Report on the Winter Olympics opening ceremony at Sochi on Russia's Black Sea coast. 

This marks the moment the Games finally get under way after months of controversy over gay rights and construction delays. 

The opening ceremony, starting at 2014 local time (1614 GMT) in the new 40,000 seater Fisht Stadium, will showcase Russia and its history to the rest of the world. 

Costing an estimated $50 billion, Sochi will be the most expensive Winter Olympics in history. 

Security is tight, particularly after 34 people died in two suicide blasts in the city of Volgograd in December, blamed on extremists from the Northern Caucasus region. 

President Vladimir Putin is seen as the driving force behind the Games and will attend the opening ceremony along with more than 40 other leaders. 

But US President Barack Obama will not be among them. His absence is being seen as a snub to Russia after it passed a law banning the spread of "gay propaganda" to minors.

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