As always, Greece — the birthplace of Olympic competition — came first in the parade of nations. Five new teams, all from warm weather climates, joined the Winter Olympics for the first time. Togo’s flagbearer looked dumbstruck with wonder, but those veterans from the Cayman Islands had the style to arrive in shorts!
The smallest teams often earned the biggest cheers from the crowd of 40,000, with an enthusiastic three-person Venezuelan team winning roars of approval as flag bearer and alpine skier Antonio Pardo danced and jumped along to the electronic music.
Only neighboring Ukraine, scene of a tense and ongoing standoff between a pro-Russian president and Western-leaning protesters, could compete with those cheers.
That is, until the Russians arrived.
Walking in last to a thundering bass line that struggled to overcome the ovations from the hometown crowd, the Russians reveled in all the attention. Their feeling could perhaps best be summed up by Russian singers Tatu, whose hit “Not Gonna Get Us” accompanied them to their seats.
Russians place huge significance in the Olympics, carefully watching the medal count — their dismal performance in Vancouver four years ago is on the minds of many.
These games are particularly important, as many Russians are still insecure about their place in the world after the end of the Cold War and the years since that have seen dominance of the United States and China.
International politics were never far beneath the surface. One member of the VIP crowd carrying the Olympic flag was Anastasia Popova, a young televison reporter with the state-owned Rossiya TV channel, best known for her reporting in Syria. Putin and Russian state media have stood strongly behind Syrian President Bashar Assad, and Popova’s coverage laid the blame for the Syrian civil war squarely on Syrian rebels.