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Culture – Embassy 50

Sochi shines at start of Olympics

The Sochi Olympics began in spectacular style with a celebration of Russia’s history and culture that included Tzars and Tolstoy; Bolshoi Ballet and Bolshevics; Tschaikovsky and Troikas.

Guests and a worldwide audience of 3 billion sat rapt as the opening ceremony showed the origins of the continental power and ended with it reaching beyond Earth in the Space Race.

With Sochi’s price tag at £32 billion, making it the most expensive in the history of the Games, it is clear that no expense was spared to pull off the spellbinding show.

But now attention turns to the sport and envoys at après-ski parties in embassies around London have been predicting which countries will have the biggest gold medal haul.

In an Embassy poll, three out of four envoys have tipped Russia to top the medal table, with USA, Canada and Norway battling it out for the remaining podium positions.

When it comes to medals per capita, Nordic countries Finland and Norway, with populations of five million, are the hot favourites.

This Winter Olympics is the biggest ever, with 90 nations going for gold. Seven nations are expected to make their debut: Dominica, Malta, Paraguay, Timor Leste, Togo, Tonga and Zimbabwe. India has qualified for the luge and the Jamaicans are back in the bobsled, invoking the spirit of Cool Runnings.

There are also 12 new winter sport events to be making their Olympic debut and there are 98 medal sets up for grabs. To underline the star status of the Olympians, 10 souvenir Sochi gold medals will contain metal from the Chelyabinsk meteorite.

More than 60 world leaders watched the spectacle in the Fisht Stadium – the biggest ever for a Winter Olympics – although some Western leaders, notably the UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron, the US President Barack Obama and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel were absent.

Some observers have interpreted that as a response to Russia’s human rights record, notably new legislation banning the promotion of homosexuality to minors.

This may have been alluded to in Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach’s speech when he said: “The Olympic Games are a sports festival embracing human diversity in great unity.”

But the politics, security fears, worries about unfinished hotels and concerns about the lack of snow have been set aside as attention turns to awe-inspiring athleticism.

And by the end of it, Sochi will be the clear winner. The balmy Black Sea resort with its stunning snow-capped mountain backdrop, is now firmly on the tourist map.

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