SOCHI, Russia — All right, so that crazy segment with the immense flying horses was well done. So was most of the other stuff. And man, did the Russians ever need it. After the angst of many previous days, Friday's opening ceremony of the Olympics delivered. For two hours, security concerns and construction troubles were forgotten as organizers staged one of the better versions of what amounts to the planet's biggest halftime show. The pageantry was impressive, despite one minor technical glitch. So was the parade of athletes, which had no glitches. Plus, no stray dogs
were killed in the process, though one was seen walking about the Fisht Olympic Stadium concourse shortly before the music and spectacle began.
As a bonus, there were welcomed raised eyebrows.
How, for instance, does one interpret the Russian team's marching in to about 10 minutes of Not Gonna Get Us by t.A.T.u., a Russian female duo some think uses its songs and public actions as a way to show support for the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transdenger community? Was that the organizers' — or Russian President Vladimir Putin's — way of poking an ironic stick at critics of Russia's anti-gay legislation?
And wasn't International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach poking back when he spoke at the ceremony of Olympic competitors living under one roof "with tolerance and without any form of discrimination for whatever reason?"
Those words drew loud applause from the entire stadium. More surprising was a phrase uttered by Sochi Organizing Committee president Dmitry Chernyshenko, who told the crowd "when we come together in all our diversity, it is the Olympic Games that unite us."
Putin, it is said, has his own perception-changing mission: erase the stereotype of Russia as a dour, sullen nation. The ceremony was planned with that in mind. During the preshow segment, for instance, a large Russian military choir in full uniform busted out a version of Daft Punk's poppy song Get Lucky.
But the Russians didn't ignore their rich literary and artistic heritage, presenting a geographic, geologic, ethnographic and choreographic portrait of themselves that included boogying medieval onion domes, 20th century Soviet monumentalism, Stravinsky's riotous Rite of Spring, the ebullient waltz from War and Peace, the czars and Communist commissars.
The stadium crowd, seemingly all Russian, ate it up, judging by their cheers and applause.
Putin grinned when the Olympic mascots appeared. He did not smile when one of the high-tech lighting stunts failed, with just four, not five, snowflakes morphing into the five Olympic rings.
In a nice touch compared with previous opening ceremonies, organizers staged the athletes' march very early, allowing the athletes to see almost the entire show. The reviews were positive.
"Words can't describe what I witnessed live with my own eyes," said American freestyle skier Devin Logan. "It was the coolest experience of my life."
"Everything was breathtaking, from the lights, costumes, props, dancers and snow falling inside the stadium," U.S. bobsled driver Jamie Greubel said.
The U.S. team received a nice, if not raucous, reception. As usual, the loudest and most emotional scene occurred when, per tradition, the home team marched into the stadium last.
The Olympic flame was lit in tandem by two of Russia's most famous winter athletes, hockey goalie Vladislav Tretiak and pairs figure skater Irina Rodnina.
Both are three-time gold medalists. But at least in the United States, Tretiak is best known as the Soviet Union goalie benched halfway through the "Miracle On Ice" game at the 1980 Olympics, won by the United States.
Rodnina is in parliament as a member of Putin's United Russia party. A Twitter post of hers from last year — a photo of President Barack Obama doctored to include a banana — drew new attention online Friday. She previously had taken down the photo but later defended it with a post saying "Freedom of speech is freedom!"
Tretiak and Rodnina were handed the torch by a group of Russian athletes that included tennis star and former Sochi resident Maria Sharapova. "That was the best jog of my life!" she posted on Twitter. "Running will never feel the same."