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Olympics: Russia launches Games with upbeat history lesson

Published February 8, 2014 6:58 am

Olympics • Russia launches Games with a grand kickoff, offers an upbeat history lesson.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Sochi, Russia • Park City's Sarah Hendrickson walked triumphantly. She pictured this night during those long hours in the gym, coming back from a knee injury that threatened to keep her home from the first women's ski jumping event in Olympic history.

Logan's Conor Lyne proudly carried Ireland's flag. He thought of his parents who brought him to America when he was 4 and couldn't have known that his youthful skiing pursuits at Beaver Mountain "would become such an adventure," as he wrote this week.

The Utahns were among athletes from 87 countries who marched in Friday's Opening Ceremony at Fisht Olympic Stadium, celebrating the 2014 Winter Games. Six-time Olympian Todd Lodwick, a Nordic combined athlete, carried the American flag. In the Russian alphabetical order, the U.S. team entered between Slovenia and Tajikistan.

As each delegation was announced and emerged through a tunnel in the middle of the stadium, its country was highlighted on a giant globe projected onto the floor.

And 12 years after members of the United States' "Miracle on Ice" hockey team lit the caldron to begin Salt Lake City's Olympics, one of the players who opposed them joined in the honor in his home country.

Soviet Union goaltender Vladislav Tretiak was celebrated as a three-time gold medalist, although he was replaced during that famous 1980 semifinal game. Tretiak and figure skater Irina Rodnina, another three-time goal medalist, completed the flame's journey.

The other torch bearers also were star athletes: pole vaulter Elena Isinbaeva, gymnast Alina Kabaeva, tennis player Maria Sharapova and wrestler Alexander Karelin, a four-time Olympic medalist who lost to Rulon Gardner in the 2000 finals.

Organizers promised "the most technologically innovative ceremony ever," and they delivered an upbeat presentation with elaborate, suspended inflatable props that complemented the cast of 3,000.

The show told Russia's story from Peter the Great in the 17th century to the Russian Revolution to the baby boom.

"When we prepared the ceremony, we made a mental journey back into the history of Russia, bearing in mind that … we want [viewers] to experience this love of Russia," chief creative director Konstantin Ernst said in a news conference. "We want to carry a very strong emotional message."

Celebrating the country's artists, composers and authors, Russia made a good impression — as the Opening Ceremony is intended to do.

IOC president Thomas Bach endorsed Russia's preparation for the Games in his speech, saying, "What took decades in other parts of the world has been achieved here in just seven years."

Bach also reminded Russian president Vladimir Putin and the other 40,000 spectators of the Olympics' purpose "to set an example for a peaceful society … with tolerance and without any form of discrimination for any reason."

Putin stuck to his script, declaring the Games open.

Naturally, the U.S. athletes' responses via Twitter focused mostly on their own experiences. Even in her third Olympics, the march "still gives me goosebumps & brings tears to my eyes," speedskater Maria Lamb of Park City said.

Speedskater Eddy Alvarez, a former Salt Lake Community College baseball player, cited "an amazing feeling to walk in the front of the line, representing my country. It has finally hit me."

Lyne, from Ireland via Logan, Tweeted a photo of himself with the flag, declaring it "the proudest moment of my life."

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt —