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Nation/World

February 8, 2014

Russia kicks off Sochi Games with hope and hubris

(Continued)

And the poorly paid migrant workers who helped build up the Sochi site from scratch, the disregard for local residents, the environmental abuse during construction, the pressure on activists, and the huge amounts of Sochi construction money that disappeared to corruption.

Some world leaders purposely stayed away, but U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and dozens of others were in Sochi for the ceremony. He didn’t mention the very real anger over a Russian law banning gay “propaganda” aimed at minors that is being used to discriminate against gay people.

But IOC President Thomas Bach won cheers for addressing it yesterday, telling the crowd it’s possible to hold Olympics “with tolerance and without any form of discrimination for whatever reason.”

For all the criticism, there was no shortage of pride at the ceremony in what Russia has achieved with these games. The head of the Sochi organizing committee, Dmitry Chernyshenko, captured the mood of many Russians present when he said, “We’re now at the heart of that dream that became reality.”

“The games in Sochi are our chance to show the whole world the best of what Russia is proud of,” he said. “Our hospitality, our achievements, our Russia!”

The ceremony presented Putin’s version of today’s Russia: a country with a rich and complex history emerging confidently from a rocky two decades and now capable of putting on a major international sports event.

Putin himself was front and center, declaring the games open from his box high above the stadium floor. Earlier, he looked down as the real stars of the games — those athletes, dressed in winter wear of so many national colors to ward off the evening chill and a light dusting of man-made snow — walked onto a satellite image of the earth projected on the floor, the map shifting so the athletes appeared to emerge from their own country.

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