The Sochi Winter Olympics officially got underway with a grandiose opening ceremony that paid tribute to Russian history and culture but was marred by an embarrassing early technical glitch.
One of the five Olympic rings suspended high above the stage failed to unfurl, meaning that the giant structure could not be illuminated by fireworks as planned and the sequence had to be abandoned.
The creative director of the opening ceremony was quick to play down the mishap, insisting that the malfunction didn't detract from the show.
"Zen buddhists have a saying that if you have the perfectly polished ball, leave a nick in it so you can understand just how perfectly it is polished," Konstantin Ernst, head of Russia's biggest television station, told reporters.
"The (opening of the) rings was the simplest technical thing. That came first and everything else went off, and this was that nick.
"No normal person would get distracted by one snowflake that did not open from the story that is being told over two and half hours."
President Vladimir Putin hoped the display would dispel fears of militant attacks and a row over gay rights that marred the build-up.
Putin has staked his reputation on hosting a safe and successful Games in the resort town of Sochi, where a colourful, sometimes muddled show before 40,000 spectators at the gleaming Fisht Stadium signalled the start of full sporting competition.
"I declare the 22nd Winter Olympic Games open," said Putin, launching an event he has personally overseen and expects will burnish Russia's, and his own, image on the world stage.
After the early error, the show went on with no further interruptions, and cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev, who has spent more days in space than anyone, hoisted the Russian flag as performers dressed in glowing red, blue and white lights formed a living flag.
Athletes emerged from beneath the stage up a ramp for the traditional parade, and a giant satellite image of each nation taken from space was projected onto the floor. The crowd cheered them around the track, and light boxes on seats in the stands created a dazzling visual backdrop.
Before the symbol hiccup, a young girl in white dress soared into the air, lifted by a harness, and sang as islands representing different parts of Russia with folktale scenes drifted dreamlike across the stadium.
The spectacular, officially launching the Winter Games, began at 2014 local time, and minutes later a burst of fireworks lit up the clear night sky outside the gleaming new stadium located on the shores of the Black Sea.
The state-of-the-art arena, one of several construction projects that have swelled the budget of the Winter Games to a record £29 billion, holds 40,000 people, and President Vladimir Putin was joined by more than 40 world leaders.
Fireworks illuminate the night sky of Sochi.
Reuters / Eurosport
- Vladimir Putin