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Winter Olympics 2014 opening ceremony: What? No Bolshevik executions? No gay kiss?

Organisers had promised an avant-gardist take on the Russian Revolution, and it did not disappoint

Bathed in red light, a steam locomotive suspended from wires inched across the sky of the Fisht Stadium, accompanied by the same discordant music that a few in the audience might have recognised as the tune that played when the figure-skater Irina Rodnina salchowed her way to gold at Lake Placid in 1980.

It was also Ms Rodnina who tweeted a racist, doctored photograph of Barack Obama in September … but never mind. After the locomotive came hammers and sickles, cosmonauts, spaceships and 7ft boxer Nikolai Valuev playing Russia’s equivalent of a lollipop lady.

Organisers had promised an avant-gardist take on the Russian Revolution, and it did not disappoint. Alright, so an LED-lit Lenin did not summarily execute the last Tsar and his family. There was no Alexander Solzhenitzyn on stilts, no farms being collectivised. But Russia is no more guilty than anyone of airbrushing out the less savoury moments in its history when in the world’s spotlight.

Russia has always done things differently, not least its 33-letter alphabet, which was used to remind us, in alphabetical order, of the country’s near-incomparable contribution to civilisation. Dostoyevsky, Gagarin, Catherine the Great, Tchaikovsky, Kandinsky, Nabokov, the Periodic Table (is that Russian?), Sputnik, Chekhov.

The most expensive games in history – £30bn, apparently – had an arguably less grandiose beginning than others, but how much was left after building a winter wonderland in a beach resort? The ski jump alone was £265m – £1m a metre.


As for the tiger-taming, fish-catching, horse-riding President Putin, even he knew that a parachuting 86-year-old grandma Head of State would be an impossible act to follow. He walked in, sat down, stood up to declare the Games open, and kept himself to himself.