SOCHI, Russia —
It’s designed to celebrate a millennium of Russian might and this country’s modern rebound, and kick off two weeks of extraordinary human endeavors and planetary sportsmanship. But the ceremony opening the Sochi Olympics today, more than anything, will be about one man: Vladimir Putin.
He charmed and strong-armed his way to hosting the games at a summer beach resort that he envisioned as a winter paradise. He stared down terrorist threats and worldwide wrath at a scarcely veiled campaign against gays. He has shrugged off critiques that construction of the most costly games in Olympic history was both shoddy and corrupt.
Ballet, man-made snow and avant-garde art will make an appearance at Sochi’s opening ceremonies, though, as with all past opening ceremonies, the details are under wraps. They can’t really compete with the cinematic splendor of the London Olympics or the pyrotechnic extravaganza of Beijing, but then again, the Winter Games are usually more low-key.
No matter. All Putin needs is an event that tells the world “Russia is back.”
It’s a message meant for millions around the world who will watch the show — and meant for his countrymen, too.
Russians will form the bulk of the spectators in Sochi for the Olympics, a people whose forebears endured centuries of oppression, a revolution that changed the world, a Soviet experiment that built rockets and nuclear missiles but struggled to feed its people.