The three-hour spectacular combined a tribute to Olympism with a marvellous celebration of Russian history and culture that involved a cast of thousands, including sporting icons, ballet stars, acrobats and even cosmonauts - all set against a musical backdrop of Russian classical music.
In the opening sequences of the Ceremony, the audience was treated to an alphabetic evocation of great figures and moments in Russian history, as a giant firework display lit up the Black Sea coastline. Inside the stadium floating islands represented Russia’s vast and varied landscape, from the volcanos of Kamchatka to the forests of the Urals and Siberia’s icebound Lake Baikal. The stage was set for the entrance of the Games’ main protagonists.
Breaking with tradition, the Parade of Athletes, one of the central elements of all Opening Ceremonies, took place at the start and not the finish of the evening, setting the stage for a three-hour spectacle of music, fireworks and breath-taking choreography.
One by one, the 87 delegations entered the Fisht Olympic Stadium to rapturous applause, starting as ever with the Greek athletes and culminating with the host nation, spearheaded by bobsleigh pilot, Alexander Zubkov.
Later, the crowds were wowed by the entrance into the stadium of a 65-metre long troika and a giant inflatable structure in the form Moscow’s iconic St Basil’s Cathedral. Then, to the explosive sound of cannons, the vast army of visionary 17th century tsar, Peter the Great took the stadium by storm, followed by a depiction of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Throughout the Ceremony, the music of Russia’s greatest classical composers such as Tchaikovsky and Prokoviev resonated through the stadium and beyond, providing a stirring backdrop.
The Chairman of the Sochi 2014 Organising Committee, Dmitry Chernyshenko was the first speaker to take the platform, as he welcomed athletes, delegates and fans to the Russian city : “"Welcome to the 2014 Olympics Winter Games in Sochi," he said. "Our city is unique, as all of Russia is unique. It is the largest country in the world where Europe meets Russia. We are proud to have the privilege to host the entire world."
A new page in Olympic history
It was then the turn of the International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach to take centre stage, and he first praised the efforts of the organisers. "Welcome to the XXII Olympic Winter Games. Tonight, we are writing a new page in Olympic history.”
“What took decades in other parts of the world, has been achieved here in just seven years. This is a remarkable achievement.”
He went on to pay tribute to all of the ordinary Russians who, in the spirit of “volunteerism,” had helped lay the foundations for Sochi 2014. "Thousands of volunteers have welcomed us with the well-known warm Russian hospitality. Many thanks to all of the volunteers.”
The IOC President went on to address the athletes, with a stirring reminder of their role as ambassadors for the Olympic ideals and of Olympism: "Russia and the Russians have set the stage for you, the best winter athletes on the planet. From this moment on, you are not only the best athletes, you are Olympic athletes. You will inspire us with your outstanding sports performances.”
“You have come here with your Olympic dream. The International Olympic Committee wants your Olympic Dream to come true. This is why we are investing almost all of our revenues in the worldwide development of sports. The universal Olympic rules apply to each and every athlete - no matter where you come from or what your background is.”
"Yes, it’s possible - even as competitors - to live together under one roof in harmony ,with tolerance and without any form of discrimination for whatever reason. Yes, it is possible - even as competitors - to listen, to understand and to give an example for a peaceful society."
"Olympic Games are always about building bridges to bring people together. Olympic Games are never about erecting walls to keep people apart. Olympic Games are a sports festival embracing human diversity in great unity."
"Therefore I say to the political leaders of the world: Thank you for supporting your athletes - they are the best ambassadors of your country. Please respect their Olympic Message of good will, of tolerance, of excellence and of peace. Have the courage to address your disagreements in a peaceful, direct political dialogue and not on the backs of these athletes."
Read the full text of the speech of IOC President Thomas Bach
At 22h26 local time, the IOC President then handed over to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who, in time-honoured fashion, declared the Games open. Soprano Anna Netrebko performed a moving rendition of the Olympic Anthem before Russian short-track speed skater Ruslan Zakharov stepped forward to take the Olympic oath on behalf of all the athletes, while Vyacheslav Vedenin performed the same task for the judges, while Anastasia Popkova took the oath on behalf of the coaches.
Russian legends light the cauldron
At 22:32 local time, the Olympic flag was borne into the stadium by eight famous Russians, each prominent in a different field: cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman to travel into space, six-time Olympic speed skating champion Lidiya Skoblikova, film director Nikita Mikhailkov, actress Chulpan Khamatova, journalist Anastasia Popova, ice hockey legend Vyacheslav Fetisov, conductor Valeriy Gergiev, and virtual racing driving champion Alan Enileev.
The Olympic torch was then transported, relay style, by six legends of Russian sport. First, tennis star Maria Sharapova, who herself hails from Sochi, carried the flame into the stadium before handing it on to pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva.
It was then passed, in turn, to wrestling champion Aleksandr Karelin and rhythmic gymnastics star Alina Kabayeva. Finally, it fell to former ice skater Irina Rodnina and ice hockey keeper Vladislav Tretiak - both triple Olympic gold medallists - to complete the final leg of the relay and light the Olympic cauldron.
After a dramatic firework finale, the stage was set for 16 days of equally dramatic competition. Let the Games begin!
Relive the complete Sochi 2014 Opening Ceremony