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February 7, 2014

Sochi Olympics kick off with grand opening

SOCHI, Russia — Music, dance and plenty of Russian bravado unleashed the ultimate achievement of Vladimir Putin's Russia on Friday — a Winter Olympics to showcase the best athletes on ice and snow that the world has to offer.

The opening ceremony on the edge of the Black Sea and subsequent games are Russia's chance to tell its story of post-Soviet resurrection to the world, and dispel the anger, fear and suspicion that has marred the buildup to these most expensive Olympics ever.

Just after the sun set over the Caucasus Mountains and along the seashore just outside Fisht Stadium in the wet-paint-fresh Olympic Park, Russian TV star Yana Churikova shouted to a crowd still taking their seats: "Welcome to the center of the universe!"

For the next two weeks, it certainly is for the 3,000 athletes who will compete in 98 events, more people and contests than ever at the Winter Games.

American snowboarder Shaun White is certain to wow crowds in the Krasnaya Polyana resort halfpipe. On the ice, Canadian hockey players Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews will try to add another gold medal to their collection of Stanley Cups. In the rink, American's Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold will try to dethrone South Korean marvel and defending goal medalist Yuna Kim.

But every athlete who makes it to Sochi is honored with the title Olympian, and a satellite image of the earth was projected on the floor of Fisht Stadium as they entered during the parade of nations, the map shifting so the athletes emerged from their own country. The athletes from the Cayman Islands even arrived in shorts!

After Greece, traditionally first as the birthplace nation of Olympic competition, the teams marching into the stadium in Russian alphabetical order, putting the U.S. between Slovenia and Tajkistan.

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