Sochi Olympics kick off with grand opening

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SOCHI, Russia – A balletic, artistic and, at times, seat-shaking celebration in a ceremony designed to reintroduce Russia to the world kicked off the Sochi Olympics on Friday.

President Vladimir Putin, in a black winter coat in near-freezing temperatures, opened the XXII Olympic Winter Games one night after competition began in the Black Sea resort.

The night’s climax, after 2 hours, 40 minutes, was the end of the longest torch relay in Winter Olympics history.

Olympic champions hockey goalie Vladislav Tretiak and figure skater Irina Rodnina jointly lit the flame, a nod to two Winter Olympic sports that the Soviet Union and Russia have long excelled at.

The night also included an early glitch.

Five stars drifted in the air above the middle of the stadium floor with the intention of turning into the Olympic rings. Four stars unfurled, but the fifth did not.

The rest of the program went smoothly inside Fisht Stadium, whose open ends tunneled in near-freezing temperatures all night.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE FULL OPENING CEREMONY

The torch relay finished with six famous Russian Olympians meeting on the stadium floor. Two of them ventured outside the stadium.

Grand Slam tennis champion Maria Sharapova carried the Olympic flame in the stadium from below the middle of the floor. She bravely jogged without a hat or gloves in about 35 degrees.

Sharapova handed her torch to pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva. They ran together to Greco-Roman wrestler Aleksander Karelin.

The trio made it to rhythmic gymnast Alina Kabaeva. Finally, the three-time Olympic champion figure skater Rodnina, 64, took it and, after a short introduction, handed it to the three-time medalist Tretiak, 61.

WATCH: Team USA in the Parade of Nations

Tretiak carried the flame with Rodnina by his side out of one of Fisht Stadium’s open end zones, past lines of people, including volunteers, and toward the Olympic cauldron in the distance.

They jogged for about 2 minutes before reaching the cauldron, the duo a contrast in sizes. They jointly lit a mini torch, which sparked a flame running up to the top of the cauldron in a couple seconds.

source: AP
Photo: AP

Most spectators inside the stadium could not see Tretiak and Rodnina. They watched on screens and listened to fast-paced instrumental music.

Earlier, Putin cracked a small smile as he voiced a short, scripted sentence read by a head of state at every Olympics. He declared the Games open. Fireworks followed outside the stadium.

That came after the customary Parade of Nations, with a Winter Olympic record 88 delegations. It included Bermuda in its customary shorts, the Cayman Islands in shorts and flip flops and female escorts whose outfits featured transparent tubes around their chests.

In a first, athletes marched from underneath the middle of the stadium floor rather than a side entrance. The order began with Greece and ended with the host nation, as both are tradition, with the other 86 groups filing in Russian alphabetical order.

The U.S. was greeted warmly, with applause, but not as many cheers as Italy or Ukraine. The U.S. Olympic Team of 230 marks the largest in Winter Games history, though many did not march to stay rested for competition this weekend.

Russia came last and left the biggest impression.

Techno pop music shifted to seat-shaking hip-hop beats for their march. Bach and Putin stood high above in the crowd and slow clapped side by side.

The parade took all of about 45 minutes and began about 20 minutes into the festivities, earlier than usual. Organizers wanted the Olympians to be able to enjoy most of the artistic show.

source: AP
Photo: AP

Olympic officials later gave speeches – Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee president Dmitry Chernyshenko, followed by Bach, speaking a mix of Russian and the Olympic languages of English and French.

Bach promoted diversity in the Olympic movement and thanked thousands for their work under “sometimes difficult circumstances.”

Many venues were not completed until recently, and signs of unfinished business are prevalent in the coastal and mountain clusters.

The Olympics could be held “with tolerance and without any form of discrimination for whatever reason,” said the German Bach, presiding over his first Olympics after succeeding Dr. Jacques Rogge in September.

Bach’s words were met by speech-stopping applause after every sentence or two.

Chernyshenko, a 45-year-old advertising and sports marketing professional, explained the Sochi 2014 motto, “Hot. Cool. Yours.”

“Our Games will be hot, not only because of palm trees outside the ice arena but also with the heat of our hearts,” Chernyshenko said. “Our Games will be cool with new modern venues, new heroes, new icons. And our Games will be yours, all of yours, because when they come together, in all our diversity, the Olympic Games have united us.”

The artistic portion, dubbed “Dreams of Russia,” was promoted as “the most complex and ambitious technical show ever attempted in Olympic history” by organizers.

A child led them.

source: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Lubov, a girl whose name translates to “love,” guided some 40,000 spectators through thousands of years, 6.6 million square miles and nine time zones.

Opening Ceremony director Konstantin Ernst wrote in a letter that he aimed to reintroduce Russia to the world.

“I wanted to break the stereotype of our country,” wrote Ernst, who has produced more than a dozen films. “What is Russia for an average person of this world? It is cavier and matreshka-dolls, balalaika or ushanka-hats, or even just a bear. … I wanted to present the history of Russia as seen through the eyes of a little girl, who represents the feminine soul of Russia.”

“Dreams of Russia” took inspiration from previous Opening Ceremonies.

Lubov herself conjured memories of Sydney 2000, when Australian Nikki Webster, 13, flew above Stadium Australia. Lubov, too, rose into the air while flying a kite.

The floor of the stadium displayed imagery throughout, much like the unprecedented Beijing 2008 Opening Ceremony. Most notably, projections showed Earth from above at night with each country illuminated as it marched in.

Giant pillars rose from the floor as well, similar to Vancouver 2010, whose indoor cauldron was created by pillars crossing over each other.

And then there were floating symbols of Russian history that eased across the middle of the stadium parallel to the upper deck.

source: AP
Photo: AP

They included a troika, a giant hammer and sickle entering from opposite sides and a train representing the Russian revolution. Classic Russian music accompanied the whip through time amid thumping drumbeats. Cannons and shots firing were sprinkled in.

St. Basil’s Cathedral, the ballet “Swan Lake” and the novel “War and Peace” were among the referenced historic landmarks. Fake snow fell intermittently.

The show of history was made possible due to the modern design of Fisht Stadium, which was built for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and will be prepared for the 2018 World Cup after the Olympics.

If you were to think of Fisht as a football stadium, it essentially has open end zones.

It will not be used for competition over the next 16 days, when a record 98 events will be contested by some 3,000 athletes, but the focus will return to Fisht for the Closing Ceremony on Feb. 23.

USA Boxing to skip world championships

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USA Boxing will not send boxers to this year’s men’s and women’s world championships, citing “the ongoing failures” of the IBA, the sport’s international governing body, that put boxing’s place on the Olympic program at risk.

The Washington Post first reported the decision.

In a letter to its members, USA Boxing Executive Director Mike McAtee listed many factors that led to the decision, including IBA governance issues, financial irregularities and transparency and that Russian and Belarusian boxers are allowed to compete with their flags.

IBA lifted its ban on Russian and Belarusian boxers in October and said it would allow their flags and anthems to return, too.

The IOC has not shifted from its recommendation to international sports federations last February that Russian and Belarusian athletes be barred, though the IOC and Olympic sports officials have been exploring whether those athletes could return without national symbols.

USA Boxing said that Russian boxers have competed at an IBA event in Morocco this month with their flags and are expected to compete at this year’s world championships under their flags.

“While sport is intended to be politically neutral, many boxers, coaches and other representatives of the Ukrainian boxing community were killed as a result of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, including coach Mykhaylo Korenovsky who was killed when a Russian missile hit an apartment block in January 2023,” according to the USA Boxing letter. “Ukraine’s sports infrastructure, including numerous boxing gyms, has been devastated by Russian aggression.”

McAtee added later that USA Boxing would still not send athletes to worlds even if Russians and Belarusians were competing as neutrals and without their flags.

“USA Boxing’s decision is based on the ‘totality of all of the factors,'” he said in an emailed response. “Third party oversite and fairness in the field of play is the most important factor.”

A message has been sent to the IBA seeking comment on USA Boxing’s decision.

The women’s world championships are in March in India. The men’s world championships are in May in Uzbekistan. They do not count toward 2024 Olympic qualifying.

In December, the IOC said recent IBA decisions could lead to “the cancellation of boxing” for the 2024 Paris Games.

Some of the already reported governance issues led to the IOC stripping IBA — then known as AIBA — of its Olympic recognition in 2019. AIBA had suspended all 36 referees and judges used at the 2016 Rio Olympics pending an investigation into a possible judging scandal, one that found that some medal bouts were fixed by “complicit and compliant” referees and judges.

The IOC ran the Tokyo Olympic boxing competition.

Boxing was not included on the initial program for the 2028 Los Angeles Games announced in December 2021, though it could still be added. The IBA must address concerns “around its governance, its financial transparency and sustainability and the integrity of its refereeing and judging processes,” IOC President Thomas Bach said then.

This past June, the IOC said IBA would not run qualifying competitions for the 2024 Paris Games.

In September, the IOC said it was “extremely concerned” about the Olympic future of boxing after an IBA extraordinary congress overwhelmingly backed Russian Umar Kremlev to remain as its president rather than hold an election.

Kremlev was re-elected in May after an opponent, Boris van der Vorst of the Netherlands, was barred from running against him. The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in June that van der Vorst should have been eligible to run against Kremlev, but the IBA group still decided not to hold a new election.

Last May, Rashida Ellis became the first U.S. woman to win a world boxing title at an Olympic weight since Claressa Shields in 2016, taking the 60kg lightweight crown in Istanbul. In Tokyo, Ellis lost 3-0 in her opening bout in her Olympic debut.

At the last men’s worlds in 2021, Robby Gonzales and Jahmal Harvey became the first U.S. men to win an Olympic or world title since 2007, ending the longest American men’s drought since World War II.

The Associated Press and NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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Sweden weighs 2030 Winter Olympic bid after IOC meeting

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Sweden’s Olympic leaders are weighing up whether to bid for the Winter Games in 2030.

The Nordic country’s potential entry into the race to stage the 2030 Games comes at a time when the International Olympic Committee has delayed the process and is searching around for more contenders to host the event.

Sapporo, Japan, was considered the favorite before an ongoing bid-rigging scandal related to the Summer Olympics in Tokyo held in 2021. Salt Lake City is the only other known bidder that might consider taking 2030, though officials have said they favor a bid for 2034.

A joint Stockholm-Are bid from Sweden lost out to another shared bid, from Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy, to stage the Winter Games in 2026 amid a lack of clear public support in Sweden and some government upheaval at local and national level in the run-up to the vote.

There was reportedly discontent in Stockholm over how the Swedish bid was treated in the contest for the 2026 Games.

The Swedish Olympic and Paralympic Committees and the Swedish Sports Confederation will start a feasibility study for 2030, they said Wednesday. A report from the study will be presented on April 20.

“These are new times now and the feasibility study will show how the Olympics and Paralympics can be shaped based on Sweden’s conditions,” said Anders Larsson, acting chairman of the Swedish Olympic Committee. “We already have virtually all the arenas required to arrange the largest Winter Games.”

The committee’s secretary general, Åsa Edlund Jönsson, said the 2030 Games “could be a campfire to rally Sweden around.”

“The idea is to review the concept that existed for the candidacy in 2026, which would mean competitions in several places in Sweden,” Jönsson said, specifically referencing Stockholm and the regions of Dalarna and Jämtland. “Here we feel confident that there is great experience in arranging world-class winter championships in the Swedish sports movement.”

The Stockholm-Are bid for 2026 even included plans to stage ice-sliding sports across the Baltic Sea at a venue in Latvia to avoid building a white elephant venue in Sweden — a key demand of IOC reforms to cut Olympic hosting costs.

The idea of Sweden potentially joining the 2030 race came up at a meeting in Lausanne in January.

“We have had a meeting with the IOC that was about, without obligation from any quarter, looking at the Games in 2030,” Larsson said. “During that meeting, it was clear that the IOC liked our concept for 2026. What the feasibility study will provide answers to is whether we are ready to move forward in the process.”

Sweden hosted the Summer Olympics in 1912 but never a Winter Games, despite the country being an established giant in winter sports.

It has made eight failed bids to stage the Winter Games.

Gunilla Lindberg, who is on the Swedish Olympic Committee, is also an IOC member and on its panel tasked with finding potential future hosts for the Winter Games.

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