The United States claimed the first gold in the slopestyle event
held amidst the snow-capped peaks of the Caucasus Mountains, some 40
km (25 miles) northeast of the Black Sea resort town of Sochi where
the main Olympic park is located.
On a clear, crisp day, U.S. snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg leapt and
twisted high in the air, riding an almost flawless first run to win
the slopestyle crown.
Rock music blared and fans danced as the event, which bears
similarities to skateboarding, made its debut in an initiative to
attract a younger demographic to Winter Olympic sport.
"I have no idea what's actually going on. This is the craziest thing
that ever happened," Kotsenburg said.
President Vladimir Putin has staked his reputation on hosting a safe
and successful Games.
Some 37,000 security personnel are on high alert in Sochi over
threats by Islamist militant groups based in nearby Chechnya and
other north Caucasus regions to attack the February 7-23 Games, the
most expensive ever at a cost of $50 billion.
Security analysts believe an attack is more likely elsewhere in
Russia to humiliate Putin, who launched a war to crush a Chechen
separatist rebellion in 1999.
Twin suicide bombings killed at least 34 people in December in
Volgograd, 400 miles northeast of Sochi.
Now the Games are up and running, Putin hopes they will project
Russia as a resurgent power that has finally shed the shackles of
its Soviet past.
The opening ceremony on Friday night sought to do just that, taking
viewers on a race through Russian history with spectacular set
pieces created on a gargantuan scale.
Music from Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Leo Tolstoy's "War and Peace", the
turmoil of the Russian revolution and pioneering Soviet space
exploration were all projected at break-neck speed before 40,000
spectators and millions watching on television.
HITCHES HIDDEN, CHOICES QUESTIONED
The event, at the gleaming Fisht Stadium built on the shores of the
Black Sea, was not without its problems.
One of the five Olympic rings failed to open properly, and when
Russian state television noticed, footage of a successful rehearsal
was used instead to conceal the glitch.
On Saturday, Russia's Games chief Dmitry Chernyshenko was questioned
about the choice of triple Olympic figure skating champion Irina
Rodnina to light the Olympic flame — a huge honor in the sporting
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A national hero in Russia and member of parliament loyal to Putin,
she caused an outcry in the United States last September by
re-tweeting a Photoshopped picture showing President Barack Obama
chewing and a hand waving a banana in front of him.
"Irina Rodnina is from the club of three-times gold medallists and
one of the most respected in the world," Chernyshenko told
reporters. "The Olympic Games are not about politics," he said.
Nevertheless, Putin held an expected one-on-one meeting on Friday
with Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovich, who was in Sochi to
attend the opening ceremony.
Moscow has frozen aid to Ukraine until it knows who will be named in
place of the pro-Russian prime minister removed last week in a bid
to appease opposition leaders and thousands of protesters rallying
in central Kiev against Yanukovich's rule.
The Ukrainian president infuriated many of his people by deciding at
the last minute to spurn a trade deal with the European Union in
favour of deeper economic ties with Russia.
Five gold medals in total will be up for grabs on Saturday, with the
action concluding around midnight with the floodlit women's moguls.
Norwegian Marit Bjoergen, dubbed the "Iron Lady" and the most
successful athlete of the 2010 Games with five medals, including
three golds, won the cross-country skiathlon.
Looking ahead to Sunday's big draw, the men's downhill, American
Bode Miller laid bare the dangers faced by competitors when he said
the treacherous Rosa Khutor piste "could kill you".
The veteran clocked a speed of 132.59 kilometres (82.4 miles) per
hour as he topped the timesheets in the final training run for the
race, but was shaken after seeing team mate Marco Sullivan narrowly
escape a serious crash.
"Not kill myself was the primary (objective)," Miller told reporters
after an impressive show of speed and control through the twists and
turns of a course he said was "damned fast".
"It's very treacherous. This course has teeth everywhere. The top is
aggressive and speeds are so high and the turns are so swingy and
bumpy that you can hook an edge anywhere."
(Additional reporting by Karolos Grohmann, Timothy Heritage and
Keith Weir in Sochi and Martyn Herman, Julien Pretot and Nick
Mulvenney in Rosa Khutor; writing by Mike Collett-White; editing by
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