The Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympics concluded in Sochi, Russia with a vivid display of fireworks and two legendary Russian ex-Olympians lighting the cauldron. The spectacle may not remove the problems that clouded the build-up to the tournament: political controversies, terrorism fears and concerns over the venue’s preparedness remain. The Russians so far have responded with glum defiance; others still question the morality of holding the Games at this Black Sea resort. But that all now takes a backseat as the Games begin. Below is TIME’s live coverage of the glittering event.
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1:55 p.m. | The cauldron at Sochi has been lit.
1:54 p.m. | The other ex-Olympian who lit the flame was Vladislav Tretiak, the legendary goaltender for the Soviet Union who is considered perhaps the best ever to play his position. He never played in the NHL, but did have an unfortunate turn in the famous “Miracle on Ice” hockey game.
1:29 p.m. | Russian President Vladimir Putin: briefly opens the Winter Olympics: “I pronounce these Games open.”
1:26 p.m. | Yep, that’s Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s Prime Minister, sleeping during the Opening Ceremony:
TIME’s correspondent in Sochi sums up the historical gloss we just watched at the Opening Ceremony:
12:50 p.m. | Reports have surfaced that a flight from Ukraine bound for Istanbul was grounded and searched by Turkish security forces after a passenger claimed a bomb was aboard the aircraft. The alleged bomber reportedly tried to divert the flight to Sochi.
12:43 p.m. | So far in Sochi’s grand-narration of Russian history, we’ve seen flying horses, ancient Greeks and Vikings. But no mention yet of the Circassians— the people indigenous to Sochi forced into exile in the 19th century. — Ishaan Tharoor
Long before the punk-rock group Pussy Riot or global gay-rights activists sought a boycott of the Olympics, a forgotten community clamored loudly against the events in Sochi. The Circassians, whose history of dispossession and exile Umarov opportunistically invoked, are a scattered, largely Muslim people native to the Caucasus, now found mostly outside of Russia in Turkey and parts of the Middle East. Their original homeland stretches from the eastern rim of the Black Sea — where Sochi sits — to the rugged western highlands of the Caucasus, but few of its indigenous inhabitants remain there.
12:34 p.m. | A video montage charting Russia’s origins and epic history just ended. It’s followed by imagery of the symbolic Russian troika, a three horse-drawn chariot:
12:24 p.m. | Russian pop duo t.A.T.u. just played Team Russia into the procession, which may seem like an odd choice: the two found success in the early 2000s with the single ‘All the Things She Said,’ the video of which showed the girls wearing school uniforms and kissing in the rain.
12:22 p.m. | Not so ‘Cool Runnings’: The Jamaican bobsled team just marched. They had to raise money on the Internet to make it to Sochi.
12:19 p.m. | An overhead shot of Team America marching in the procession:
12:16 p.m. Team Ukraine is marching in Fischt Stadium. The two countries have seen closer ties since Ukraine’s President snubbed a trade and association deal with the European Union in November to instead pivot toward Russia. Since then, violent clashes have rocked the capital Kiev.
12:14 p.m. | The Boston Bruins’ giant defenseman Zdeno Chara led out Team Slovakia:
12:09 p.m. | The American Olympians have arrived and are marching:
12:06 p.m. | Here’s the reason why India’s three contestants marched under the Olympic flag and not that of their nation:
The IOC gave India until February 7 to vote in new, untainted leadership, but India’s Olympic Association scheduled a vote on February 9, two days after the opening ceremony. As a result, India’s athletes will have to parade as “independents” under a generic Olympic flag.
11:59 a.m. | Interesting seating arrangement!
11:56 a.m. | If you’re tracking the politics of the ceremony so far, TIME counts a very robust Sochi cheer for Venezuela, whose government enjoys thumbing its nose at the U.S. Deathly silence when the Georgian team marched. Next door to Sochi, Georgia fought a war with Russia half a decade ago and riles the leadership in Moscow. — Ishaan Tharoor
11:49 a.m. | A member of Austria’s Olympic team fell during the procession
The athletes of each nation are marching out now in procession. TIME’s Simon Shuster describes the scene: “The athletes start marching out onto the stage as a large ring of people in what look to be marshmallow suits clap and do a little two-step dance, swaying back and forth. Not quite the Beijing opening ceremony, but at least they are more or less synchronized. Which is cool.”
11:25 a.m. | Wardrobe malfunction?
11:23 a.m. | We’re being taken on a tour of Russia’s time zones. Does it really need nine of them? We looked at the issue last month:
In 2010, Moscow trimmed the number of zones down to nine (some experts think just four would suffice), but considerable quirks remain: for example, though Russia’s Asiatic port of Vladivostok sits clearly to the west of Japan, the time there is two hours ahead of Tokyo.
11:20 a.m. | Turkish Olympians pose with an official Sochi mascot
11:00 a.m. | The Opening Ceremony has begun.
Churikova goes all in: “Welcome to the center of the universe!” I guess Russia was never really known for modesty.
19:17: They hop back into their golf cart and ride back off stage. A Russian pop song comes on.
19:20 The golf cart’s back, running laps around the stage with a news camera in toe. Apropos of nothing, a recording starts to play of the words “Welcome to Sochi” in about a dozen different languages. (Or so I assume from the languages I understand.)
Just a few minutes in, and Urgant attempts his first joke. “The people of Sochi are really unique,” he says. “They speak all the languages of the world. But only two phrases. “Welcome,” and, “Sorry, I don’t have any change.” Falls a bit flat. In the English translation, not clear if he’s talking about panhandlers or check-out clerks at the liquor store.
19:24. So then. Nothing to kill an awkward moment like a Queen song, especially one song with a Russian accent. “We are the Champions!”
19:27 Urgant: “Now we’re going to reveal a secret of the opening ceremony. The hero is a little girl, and her name is Love.”
Wait, it gets cheesier.
“I’m overflowing with love right now,” Urgant blubbers. “Can I hug you?” Yana accepts. “Cameraman, can I hug you?” The cameraman accepts.
Then it gets weird.
You know the kissing game they do at the ballpark with the jumbotron? Right. Usually they only zoom in on couples in the stands. Not in Russia.
“Hugs!” Urgant shouts. “Hug everyone!” The camera pans around to the press box. Confusion descends. “Everyone hug your neighbor! You, lonely cameraman, yes, you! Hug the person next to you!” The poor guy concedes.
19:30 Rough transition back to song. Churikova: “There is a Russian tradition that when you hear this song you have to hug someone.” I grew up in Russia and I’m pretty sure there is no such tradition. Anyway, the song was nice.
19:36. Cue the golf cart. Urgant: “Now let me tell you how everyone can become a part of these Games.” Well, at least everyone in the stadium. Urgant pulls a trick from Opera Winfrey’s hat. Everyone is told to reach under their seat and get a light-emitting medal to put around their necks. They all start flickering the Russian tricolor, which looks pretty awesome. For some reason, Churikova feels the need to add, “Don’t worry [the medals] are absolutely harmless for your health.”