Fans Rave Over Sochi Opening Despite Dangerous Crush

SOCHI, February 8 (Howard Amos and Kevin O’Flynn, RIA Novosti) – It was crowded at the open-air Live Site screen set up in central Sochi for sports fans wanting to get together to watch an Olympic opening ceremony that rumor suggested would be an unforgettable spectacle.

Very crowded.

Clearly too crowded, as became swiftly clear as hundreds of people crammed into a massive line to get inside the cordoned-off area.

The crush, which was seemingly caused by the paucity of X-Ray machines, became increasingly dangerous as people in the scrum screamed, scuffled and pushed back and forward, knocking over the metal barriers.

A one point, a man said to a woman who was volubly complaining that she was being crushed: “If I was Hercules, I would pick you up and put you over, but I’m like you, a sardine in a can.”

After about an hour, reinforcements of police officers created some order, but even well after the ceremony had begun, lines were still huge outside the screening.

“I am hurting and worried about my niece,” said one woman who had just come through the crush. “I don’t even want to watch it,” she said, waving at the screen behind her.

For most people, however, the physically arduous wait was made worthwhile by the show that followed.

About one thousand people watched the lavish ceremony in the cordoned area, while many more crowded onto balconies outside to watch the more than two-hour-long event.

Alexander Vrikhov, a driver from Moscow, who was in Sochi on a work trip and watching at the Live Site, said that he particularly enjoyed the history section of the show, but laughed about how they had apparently missed out some parts.

“The left out the difficult bits… and they forgot perestroika,” he said, referring to the period of restructuring that was ushered in at the end of the Soviet Union.

Huge cheers broke out when Russian athletes entered the stadium. In a bar nearby a man and his child raced round shouting “Russia” and waving flags.

“We liked all of it, especially the part about the Olympic Games of 1980 and the children,” said Marina Molchanova, who came from the faraway Siberian province of Yakutia to watch the games.

The final lighting of the Olympic cauldron drew large cheers from the assembled crowd.

The cauldron was lit by three-time Olympic figure skating champion Irina Rodnina and Vladislav Tretiak, the legendary Soviet goaltender named the greatest Russian hockey player of the 20th century.

The pair was handed the flame by a bevy of other Russian sports stars, including tennis ace Maria Sharapova, Olympic medal-winning wrestler Aleksandr Karelin, pole vault star Yelena Isinbayeva and Alina Kabaeva, a gold medalist gymnast at the Athens Games of 2004.

Other people watching the show said it was much better than the opening ceremony for the last Winter Olympics.

“We were in Vancouver, but this was the best,” said Artur Balt, 27. His friend, Dmitry Kub, 22, who had traveled with him from Russia’s Kemerovo region, said that watching the opening ceremony in his own country provoked an almost indescribable feeling.

“When you are in your motherland… when you are at home, you can’t imagine how cool it is,” he said.

Alexander Shchitsyn, who came from the province of Perm in the Urals region, was breathless in his admiration, if a little jealous of those who got to enjoy the ceremony from inside the Fisht Stadium.

“It was beautiful,” he said. “It’s a shame that we weren’t there.”


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