by Joe Student

An elaborate opening ceremony lasting more than three hours marked the start of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia on Friday. A reported 40,000 fans and athletes who packed the Fisht Olympic Stadium saw a visual spectacle of pomp and pageantry, including nods to the host nation's arts, culture and history.

Despite numerous reports of unfinished construction, rampant disorganization and subpar conditions at the 22nd Winter Olympic Games this week, Friday's events went off largely error-free. At the start of the ceremony, one of five large, glowing snowflakes meant to transform into lighted Olympic rings malfunctioned and stayed closed until well into the festivities.

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Thousands of athletes representing the 85 countries competing at the games paraded into the massive outdoor stadium. The 230 members of the United States delegation received warm applause from the crowd, as they were led to their seats by six-time Olympic skier Todd Lodwick. Russia's Olympic team predictably received the longest and loudest ovation of the night.

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Oversize depictions of the Sochi Games' mascots - the polar bear, a hare and a leopard - glided into the stadium to greet the masses. One of the ceremony's several dance performances then preceded a colorful trip through Russian history illustrated with floats and symbols noting Leo Tolstoy's "War and Peace," the Russian Revolution, the Iron Curtain and more.

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Speeches from Sochi Olympic head Dmitry Chernyshenko and International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach then preceded Russian President Vladimir Putin's official declaration of the start of the games.

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After ceremonies welcomed the Olympic flag and administered the Olympic oath, a string of Russian athletes passed the Olympic torch toward the cauldron at the center of the stadium.

Tennis champion Maria Sharapova, pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva, wrestler Aleksandr Karelin, gymnast Alina Kabaeva, figure skater Irina Rodnina and hockey goalie Vladislav Tretiak all carried the torch, but Rodnina and Tretiak ultimately lit the wick. A spectacular fireworks show subsequently brought the ceremony to a close.

NBC will broadcast a recorded version of the ceremonies at 7 p.m. (ET) on Friday night.

Prior to the event, a plane was reportedly forced to land at an Istanbul airport on Friday after a passenger indicated there was a "bomb on board" and requested the aircraft land in Sochi. Officials were searching the plane and investigating the threat. No security threats were reported from Sochi.

The first full day of Olympic competition is set for Saturday with gold medals to be awarded in five events.

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[BBC.com]