Revisiting Russia's Last Opening Ceremony

Boycotts, a bear mascot, and a powerful head of state. Some things don't change.

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Reuters

The 2014 Winter Olympics' Opening Ceremony is underway in Sochi, although if you're in the U.S., you won't be able to watch it until later this evening (spoiler alert: you have glitches to look forward to). 

These are the first Olympics held in Russia since 1980, when Moscow hosted the Summer Games, the first ever held in Eastern Europe.

With reports of human rights violations, including the exploitation of construction workers in Sochi and the Russian government's anti-"homosexual propaganda" laws, heads of state around the world are skipping out. It's a familiar story for anyone who watched Leonid Brezhnev's Olympics 34 years ago.

Boycotts were especially noticeable in Moscow, when not only heads of state, but entire nations dropped out of the 1980 Summer Games: 65 of them joined the United States' boycott in response to the Soviet war in Afghanistan. Many of those countries chose to participate in Philadelphia's Liberty Bell Classic that summer instead. Some nations against the war still came to Moscow, with 15 countries marching in the Opening Ceremony with the Olympic flag instead of their national flags as a sign of international solidarity.

Uniquely low participation did not deter the USSR from putting on a show of nationalistic pride and power. Held at Central Lenin Stadium (now "Luzhniki Stadium"), the ceremony began with the chiming of the Kremlin Clock, followed by the introduction of Brezhnev and a performance of the Soviet anthem.

The official Olympic flag was raised after representatives from Montreal's '76 games (filling in for the city's boycotting mayor, Jean Drapeau) delivered it to the IOC president. Soviet triple jumper Viktor Saneyev followed, lighting the Olympic flame. To celebrate the official beginning of the Games, cosmonauts Leonid Popov and Valery Ryumin sent well wishes from space, their faces appearing on the stadium scoreboard.

Traditional dances, Soviet flag waving, and gymnastic performances ensued, but the dozens of dancing kids dressed as Misha, the brown bear mascot of the 1980 Games, stole the show, generating reserved grins from USSR officials in their stadium suite.

Flashy lights, cool snow effects, and a performance from early-aughts Russian pop-duo tATu are only a few of the features we'll see at Sochi's very un-Soviet opening ceremonies. A mascot that appears to be related to Misha should, however, be in attendance.

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