Vladislav Tretiak lights cauldron

The five were supposed to join together and erupt in pyrotechnics to get the party started. Instead, they were eventually darkened and moved out of the stadium, just as Putin was introduced.

The broken snowflake isn't the first opening ceremony blunder in Olympic history, of course. Vancouver, Sydney and Seoul all had issues with the torch lighting.

Sochi's opening ceremony is crafted as a celebration of Russia and is presenting Putin's version: 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.

The ceremony opened with the Russian alphabet projected on the stadium floor, as a young girl told the story of her country's heroes and their globally renowned achievements: composer Tchaikovsky; artists Kandinsky, Chagall and Malevich; writers Tolstoy, Pushkin and Chekhov; Mendeleev and his periodic table; the first satellite Sputnik and Russia's space stations.

In a nod to Russia's long history, the national anthem was sung by the 600-year-old Sretensky Monastery Choir, a symbol of an increasing rapprochement between the state and the Russian Orthodox Church. The monastery is led by Tikhon Shevkunov, who is known to be Putin's confessor and one of the nation's most influential clergymen.

Every seat at Fisht Stadium had cloth bags that included a faux Olympic medal that those in attendance were asked to put around their necks. The medals lit up in several colors, including blue, white and violet. The decorations sent shock waves of light in sync with the upbeat techno music playing in the background as each nation was introduced.

The announcer paused for dramatic effect before the Russians were introduced, and the lights formed a red, white and blue waving flag as those in the crowd stood and clapped along to a thumping beat that shook the building.

After the athletes had taken their seats in the crowd, a fanciful scene started with three giant, white, illuminated horses leading a parade of towering inflatables on to the stage. The balloons -- all with the familiar bulbous tops of Russian cathedrals -- bounced around the stage as children frolicked in a euphoric state of play.

It looked like a Russian version of Disney on Ice, and the thrilling scene wrapped up with church bells ringing and the kids bounding off to loud cheers.

The night also included the ballet, classical music and odes to Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy.

Before the televised portion of the ceremony, Russian singers Tatu performed "Not Gonna Get Us" -- steering clear of the anger over a Russian law banning gay propaganda aimed at "protecting" minors. The women in Tatu are known for putting on a lesbian act that is largely seen as an attention-getting gimmick, but on this night, they merely held hands, stopping short of the groping and kissing of their past performances.  

This time, their lead-in act was the Red Army Choir MVD signing Daft Punk's Grammy-winning "Get Lucky."

For people who don't know much about Russia, the ceremony's director, Konstantin Ernst, promised "relatively simple metaphors" -- and no obscure references, like the nurses in the London Games' opening ceremony representing the National Health Service, which he called one of the most "incomprehensible" moments in Olympic history.

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