Before I joined my coworkers last night to watch the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony, I just wanted the whole thing to be over. Amidst all the mishaps and controversies in the run-up to the games (I won’t even link to anything because I’m sure you’ve heard), my Olympics-related sentiments went from YAY RUSSIAN PRIDE to dear god please don’t let us suck too badly and screw this up epically.
And we didn’t! In fact, the ceremony was spectacular, bright and full of energy, and my little green heart swelled with patriotism with every new display of national simvolika. Of course I got especially teary-eyed during the singing of the Russian National Anthem – although, being an American and all (ahem…yeah, not last night), I was surprised that most Russians at the restaurant continued to cheerfully drink their beers instead of standing up with hand-to-heart US of A-style.
As the night progressed, our little group applauded the artistry, groaned at silly-stupid glitches, and cheered on everyone from the 3-people tropical delegations to former USSR compatriots like Belorus and Georgia, to UK (we had a Brit among us), Canada (they’re nice), Sweden (they’re HOT) and of course, Russia. We all got drunker, I kept getting even more into the event, all the way to the amazing fireworks display that lit up over the Black Sea.
The best gif and photo recaps of the Opening Ceremony are at New York Magazine and Yahoo! Sports blog (sorry guys, I don’t want Getty/AP to come hunt me down), and the Parade of the Nations, aka ‘how to get creative with a national costume when half of the world’s flags are striped red, white and blue’ at the snarky National Post.
Below are my favorite, not-quite-favorite and most face-palmy moments of the night.
Favorite Set Piece: Troika in the Sky
There were so many great ones, including a 3D gravure of the stormy sea being conquered by the fleet of Peter the Great, a psychedelic Maslenitsa Carnival, a War and Peace ball, a floating landscape straight out of Avatar, a Swan Lake performance that transformed into a Dove of Peace and an ode to Soviet constructivism, but the most breathtaking of all was the troika – trio of white horses – galloping across the sky, bringing a glowing sun with them. It was a magnificent feat of engineering and it was executed flawlessly. You could hear the entire stadium go silent in awe, as did everyone in the pub.
Most Oh, Come On! Moment: The Dancing Flag
Nope, not the ring that didn’t light up – technical glitches happen (see Vancouver’s Olympic Fire cauldron), and I’m glad the broadcast switched to the rehearsal reel – but the human-powered Russian flag, which was supposed to wave in the wind during the singing of the Russian Anthem, was my ‘oh shit, we ARE gonna fuck up’ moment. 239 of 240 white-, blue- and red-lit performers moved in harmony, but one white dude apparently got drunk/nervous/confused and ran around like a headless chicken for a few moments, throwing the whole thing out of synch, before finally finding his proper spot. This kind of mistake was all the more frustrating because this cool-looking effect was actually pretty basic compared to the massive and ambitious set pieces that filled the remainder of the program – and whose choreography, stunts, engineering elements and overall direction were all executed perfectly. It didn’t help that there wasn’t much else going on at the moment to distract the view. Thankfully, like the ring malfunction, this happened early in the program and things went up from there.
Best Original Idea: Parade of the Nations
So, you just spent two hours enjoying the performances, and you’re starting to wonder if the whole this is going to be wrapping up soon, when BOOM, here comes the first part of the whole shindig that’s actually about the athletes. Now you have to watch a bunch of random people in gaudy sportswear walk around the stadium, while literally nothing else is happening, just so you can cheer for your home team for 5 seconds and before you can get to the good parts – the lighting of the Olympic Flame and the fireworks.
Well, not this time. The Parade of the Nations took place 20 minutes into the program, when everyone still cared, it traveled a much shorter route, and was presented visually in such a way that made every country feel and look important, regardless of the size of its land or delegation. Konstantin Ernst via Washington Post, take it away:
The Parade of the Nations will be set against an image of Earth, projected on a giant screen, as seen from outer space. Each time a country is announced, the Earth will rotate so that particular country is in focus. Then, on the stadium floor, a ramp will open up, and that nation’s athletes will emerge from the heart of their homeland.
It’s my second-favorite ode to internationalism after the 2012 London Olympics, where individual flame petals that came together in one giant Olympic Cauldron (my favorite part of those Games).
Also, the procession looked really cool from up above: the images projected onto the floor of the stadium were of nighttime lights, changeovers made the process more dynamic, and the fact that countries walked out in alphabetical order but per their Russian-language standing added a degree of surprise, with Great Britain marching early on, Canada in the middle and Japan in the end.
Most Cutaways After President Putin: Monaco Royals
The camera kept panning to Prince Albert and Princess Charlene all the time.
Personal Conspiracy Theory of the Night: The Fifth Ring
The Olympic Ring that didn’t light up was the top right one. Which is usually red. And which used to symbolize the American continent. The ring was reduced to an asterisk despite working perfectly in rehearsals. Hmmmm….Nobody does passive-aggressive like the Russians.
Best Parade of the Nations Outfits: Russia, Great Britain and Slovakia
Seriously, I want all those fur-trimmed coats that Russian female Olympians were wearing. Nice recovery from those hideous raspberry blazers in London, you guys. The Brits, sporting Russian ushanka hats, get points for the winky nod to their host country. And Slovaks had embroidered hearts – how cute is that?! Honorable mention goes to Spain for being so very sexy – I’m looking at you, Javier Fernandez – that I didn’t even notice what they were wearing, and to China and Japan for carrying Russian flags along with their own.
Worst Parade of the Nations Outfits: France and USA
France showed up in grey and beige camo gear. No. Everyone was hating on the Germans’ “Is this a rainbow of gay protest? But German delegation swears it’s not a rainbow! And there’s no purple. No, it totally IS a rainbow!” outfits, but at least they were festive! Team America, on the other hand…WTF, Ralph Lauren? These are the cardigans I have to talk my mother out of buying every Christmas Sale season after she finds them in Walmart’s discount bin!
Most in Need of Love: The Mascots
Adorable bunny, polar bear and snow leopard got so much hate, even more from the Russians (including my drinking buddies) than the western commentariat. They are ADORABLE. They looked really good skating on the arena! I just don’t get all the comments about them being ‘weird’ and ‘creepy’. Apparently people do not like cute and cuddle animals.
5 Things You Will, and Won’t See in Opening Ceremony starts out like this:
A tribute to the 14th-century Battle of Kulikovo, where an outnumbered Russian force defeated the Mongols who ruled them, which signaled the the beginning of Muscovite independence and the formation of the modern Russian state. What you won’t see is the resulting Russian persecution and forced resettlement of thousands of Muslims, especially Kazakhs, Tartars and Turks.
…and continues in the same vein. This is the kind of shit that you could not escape for months of pre-Olympics reporting. A very special anti-Russia grudge has permeated all of western media and talking points of many politicians. Even Google registered its act of protest with yesterday’s doodle. Because Russia apparently is the only country in the world with shady human rights track record (Beijing 2008), Olympics-related crony capitalism & political scandals (Salt Lake City 2002), or technical glitches (Vancouver 2010). It’s not that there was nothing bad reported about those other places and events, or that there was no public protest – I personally remember the calls in several countries to boycott the China Games. But US President George W. Bush went, and Britain’s PM Gordon Brown went, and the delegations weren’t formed as part of a political message. There was plenty of conversation about infrastructure development, athletic accomplishments, and general excitement and anticipation. Difference is, with Russia, the story is ALL negative, ALL the time. Nearly every Sochi article I had read in the past month – that’s easily hundreds of them – has at least mentioned Russia’s gay propaganda law. It could have been a sports story, a facilities story, a climate story, and yet politics permeated them all.
That’s not a commitment to truth. It’s a commitment to a particular angle, a dedication to making someone you don’t like look bad. In the interest of objectivity it would be GREAT to see a USA Today article about a US event that goes like this “What you will see is celebration of [a part of US history/American accomplishment]. What you won’t see is the slaughter of millions of natives, slavery and Vietnam invasion.” Or how about London 2012? “What you will see is celebration of [a part of British history/British accomplishment]. What you won’t see is centuries of colonialism, slave trade and economic exploitation of half of the world.” Yeah, right.
Most Unexpected Bit of Positivity: USA Today Live-Blog
After Volgograd terrorist attacks security has been a major concern, and for safety purposes Sochi became encircled by what’s been dubbed as Putin’s Ring of Steel – the guards, the checkpoints, the works. But instead of what many predicted to be a prison camp or police state atmosphere…well, per Christine Brennan:
Let’s talk security. I was very surprised to see the same kind of security coming into the Olympic Stadium for the Opening Ceremony as I’ve seen all week here. Nothing different or special. Credential screened, water bottles allowed. Who expected that? Salt Lake City, Athens, London — all armed camps. But not Sochi. Talk about your sports upsets. It took three hours to enter the Opening Ceremony in Salt Lake City. It took one hour in Vancouver. It took 30 seconds here.
FINALLY! Let’s hope there will be a lot more of this positivity going forward – and a whole lot of gold for Team Russia!