In the face of unfinished hotels, stray dogs, and embroilments over gay rights, Russia and President Vladimir Putin will have the chance to show the globe its rich culture and capabilities as an Olympic host city during Friday night’s Opening Ceremony in Sochi.
While some of the events already began, each of the record 88 countries competing in the Winter Olympics will send their teams out for the traditional Parade of Nations, with as many as 66 world leaders in attendance at Fischt Olympic Stadium.
On a tape delay, NBC will air the opening ceremony beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET. The live ceremony will begin earlier in the day, at 11 a.m. ET, but won’t be televised until primetime hours in the U.S.
Other than some of the world’s best athletes, an expected 400,000 spectators will be watching live. The ceremony will feature 800 performers all directed by Daniel Ezralow, an American-born Broadway choreographer best known for “Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark,” according to reports.
Amid a huge, dynamic firework display, there will also be performances by Russian pop duo t.A.T.u, violinist Yuri Bashmet, conductor Valery Gergiev, and ballerina Ulyana Lopatkina. A choir made up of 1,000 children will reportedly also sing beside an elaborate stage made up of floating cathedral domes and glowing magical horses and buildings.
After spending a reported $51 billion, the host city and country took its fair share of criticism from journalists angry with their accommodations and lodgings, while global search engine Google declared its political position by changing up its homepage with the rainbow colors typically associated with LGBT rights over winter Olympic athletes.
There is also controversy over the high number of stray dogs that have free rein throughout Sochi, a city known best as a resort paradise on the Black Sea. One viral video showed a dog barking at cross-country skiers during a training run.