SOCHI, Russia – Team USA marched into Fisht Olympic Stadium to thunderous applause during an opening ceremony choreographed to highlight centuries of Russian folklore and history.
Ten soldiers from the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program are in Sochi for the XXII Olympic Winter Games, and WCAP bobsled driver Sgt. Nick Cunningham was among those smiling and waving to 40,000 spectators in the stadium and a worldwide television audience Feb. 7.
“I’m overwhelmed with joy and pride,” Cunningham said after closely following the Stars and Stripes as Team USA — decked out in blue, star-studded jackets — paraded into the ceremony.
Russian President Vladimir Putin watched from a skybox. He welcomed the athletes from 97 nations and officially opened the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
The main character in the ceremony, however, was a young Russian girl named Lubov, meaning “love.” She guided the audience through generations of Russian heritage. The culture of 180 different Russian ethnic groups was displayed during what organizers dubbed the “most technologically innovative” show in Olympic history.
The extravaganza featured 2.64 million luminary objects produced by 132 projectors, and spectators wore flickering medallions in the grandstands, adding to the dazzling array of flashing lights. An aerial track on the arena roof pulled more than 80 large illuminated props across the ceiling. Twenty-five lifts and 18 traps on the stadium floor enabled props and performers to transition between the ceremony’s 13 scenes.
Three thousand performers, including Russian ballet stars, circus professionals, acrobats and young volunteers, adorned more than 6,000 costumes.
Opening ceremony producer Konstantin Ernst said he wanted to reveal Russian history in a manner that had not been seen, an exhibition “untainted by decades [of] propaganda and the Cold War.”
Unlike other Olympic opening ceremonies in which athletes entered the stadium from corner portals, here they seemingly came from underground, parading up a ramp from the middle of the playing field.
Following the speech of Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee President Dmitry Chernyshenko, International Olympic Coimmittee President Bach took the stage. He recounted how the Russians’ passion for sports on snow and ice prompted them to build the winter resorts around Sochi in just seven years, while other nations took decades to develop such facilities. He thanked the Russian hosts and challenged all athletes and their leaders to live up to the Olympic dream.
“Olympic Games are always about building bridges to bring people together,” Bach said. “Olympic Games are never about erecting walls to keep people apart. Olympic Games are a sports festival embracing human diversity in great unity.”