SOCHI, RUSSIA – Fans who might have paid as much as $1,000 a ticket to see the opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics insist the show was worth the money for the trip through Russia’s history and culture.
The show — which featured a ballet performance, opera singer Anna Netrebko and some impressive props flying over the spectators — was “superb, beautiful,” a group of Frenchmen said as they exited the lit-up Fisht stadium.
“Good luck to whoever comes next and has to put on a better show than that,” said Evin Arnaud, who had decided with his buddies to travel to the Black Sea resort for a weekend to take in the Olympic atmosphere.
“It was so exciting, so nice,” chipped in Fukai Takayuki from Tokyo, who like his friend Kazunari Takishima was in full support mode with a Japanese headband and a flag draped around his shoulders.
Takayuki saw the opening ceremony for the Olympics in Nagano in 1998 and in Salt Lake City in 2002 but said: “Sochi was the best. It was so amazing.”
The two friends paid $1,300 apiece for tickets to the ceremony and said they were in Sochi for the duration of the Games, with figure skating and freestyle moguls high on their agenda.
Friday’s ceremony retraced thousands of years of Russian history, culminating in massive figures with a hammer and sickle gliding into the arena above the crowd.
“I was kind of surprised by that. But it’s part of the country’s history so I thought it was appropriate,” said Paul Davis from Detroit, who said his daughter is competing in the figure skating.
Stephen Gough and Bryce Holbech from the U.S. team also sang the Russia’s praises while posing with fans in their stars-and-stripes Ralph Lauren outfits.
“Russia did a great job of showcasing a bit of their history, it was impressive,” said Holbech.
“This is their party so they can do what they want with it.”
Every host nation likes to draw on its culture for the opening ceremony, and this was the case for the last Olympics in Vancouver, he added.
The only complaint from spectators was the fact that the Olympic torch was led outside to light the cauldron, so that the near 40,000 spectators in the stadium could only watch with suspense on large TV screens.
The fireworks as well were mostly appreciated by those outside the stadium.
For Chris Shibutani, another athletes’ dad, the ceremony contained a dose of irony.
“The bit about the communist era was choreographed by an American — communism and its glory done by an American!” he chuckled.
For the French friends, the host nation put on a show of force.
“Russia showed its power,” said Daniel Frenet.
The display of Communist symbols “was a way of saying: ‘look we were also successful in building our country.’ “
During the athletes’ parade, the crowd was noticeably louder when the name of a former Soviet nation was called, added Jerome Henry.
“But they weren’t that worked up when it came to (President Vladimir) Putin. We actually heard a few people boo.”