First Sochi medals up for grabs after lavish opening

Sochi: Olympic athletes on Saturday are set to compete for the first medals of the Sochi Winter Games after Russia staged a thrilling opening ceremony aimed at convincing sceptics it was a worthy host.

President Vladimir Putin declared open the 22nd Winter Olympics which are inextricably linked with his name, after he championed the idea, bid and sometimes controversial construction race to host the Games in the Black Sea resort.

After a build-up dogged by controversies on issues ranging from Russia`s gay rights record to security, the focus finally moves to the sporting action at sea-level and in the mountains with five gold medals available today.

The first gold will likely come from the women`s cross-country skiathlon, while Norwegian biathlete Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, 40, will become the joint most successful Winter Olympian of all time if he wins a medal in the sprint.

Women will seek gold in the spectacular moguls freestyle event, the men`s snowboard slopestyle will be decided after a succession of spectacular crashes while the endurance kings of speed skating will face off for the lung-busting 5,000 metres.

The high-octane ceremony at the 40,000 capacity Fisht stadium on the Black Sea got off to a rocky start when one of five illuminated artificial snowflakes which were supposed to morph into the Olympic rings failed to appear, leaving an embarrassing set of just four rings.

But organisers brushed off the technical glitch, admitting that they covered-up the glitch by quickly inserting footage of the segment they had recorded days earlier.