Sochi Winter Olympics begin with glittering ceremony

Sochi (Russia), Feb 8: The 2014 Winter Olympics kicked off in Russian Black Sea resort city of Sochi Friday with an outrageously extravagant opening ceremony.

Russian former triple gold medallists Vladislav Tretiak and Irina Rodnina lit the Olympic flame, as fireworks illuminated the night sky.

At a cost of 30 billion pounds (over $49 billion), the Sochi Games is the most expensive Olympics in history, BBC reported.

Russian President Vladimir Putin declared the Games open saying: “I declare the Olympic Games open”, as more than 2,900 athletes from 87 countries paraded before 40,000 people in the newly-built Fisht Olympic Stadium.

Over 40 leaders from different parts of the world, including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, attended the opening of the grand sporting extravaganza. US President Barack Obama and some European Union leaders, however, were absent.

Meanwhile, spectators inside the stadium and television viewers worldwide were treated to a glittering show lasting nearly three hours and featuring 22 tonnes of fireworks.

The glitzy opening ceremony featured Russian music, ballet stars, acrobats, and cosmonauts, the Voice of America reported.

Meanwhile, tight security measures were in place in and around the Olympic village, with authorities on guard for possible terrorist attacks.

Islamic militants have threatened attacks, and analysts have singled out train stations and other areas where civilians congregate as possible targets.

On this occasion, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, said it is unfair to single out the Sochi Games as facing a particular security threat. He said terrorist threats were made at other Olympics, including Sydney in 2000, Athens in 2004, and Salt Lake City in 2002.

Security was also bolstered around the Kremlin in anticipation of possible protests related to the Sochi Olympics.

Qualifying rounds began Thursday in sports including the team figure skating competition, a new team gold medal event at the Winter Olympics.

The official 16-day competition period begins Saturday, when gold medals in five sports will be contested.

IANS