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Winter Olympics begins

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SOCHI, Russia: Russian President Vladimir Putin declared the Sochi Winter Games officially open yesterday at a high-octane opening ceremony before 40,000 spectators at the gleaming new Fisht Stadium.

Putin and leaders from China, Japan and about 40 other countries clapped as athletes emerged from beneath the stage up a ramp for the traditional parade, and a giant satellite image of each nation taken from space was projected onto the floor.

The ceremony got off to a shaky start when one of the five Olympic rings failed to open, meaning the symbol could not be illuminated with fireworks as planned.

But thereafter the show charmed and stunned in equal measure, taking hundreds of millions of spectators around the world on a lightning tour of Russian history and culture.

In a nod towards Russia’s proud sporting past, the Olympic cauldron was lit by two triple gold-winning Soviet winter sports icons – figure skater Irina Rodnina and ice hockey legend Vladislav Tretyak – as fireworks rained into the sky.

The flame had been brought into the stadium by tennis star Maria Sharapova and the final relay included Olympic rhythmic gymnastics champion Alina Kabayeva.

Putin welcomed more than 40 other heads of state and leaders for the ceremony, including UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

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