Pete Evans - Thursday Feb. 6, 2014 11:26 ET

Opening ceremony countdown underway in Sochi

Coverage begins at 10 a.m. ET

Fireworks were seen over Fisht Olympic Stadium during the rehearsal for the opening ceremony in Sochi. (Alexander Demianchuk/Reuters)

Today the world’s eyes turn to Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi, Russia as the 22nd Winter Olympics formally kick off with the opening ceremony.

Some sports are already underway, but Friday’s event marks the official opening.

CBC’s exclusive coverage of the event will start at 10 a.m. ET on Friday, with the event itself starting at 11:00. It will be broadcast on CBC Television and can be streamed online at CBC's Olympic website here.

Impressive display expected

If previous years are any indication, it’s sure to be quite a show.

London’s ceremony two years ago stuck to the usual script — an ostentatious showcase of the host country’s culture, padded out with celebrity appearances and homages to the Olympic spirit.

While generally well received, it wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Princess Anne of Britain criticized the showiness of such events this week and says it should be more about the athletes. (That, despite her mother, the Queen, featuring prominently in London’s show.)

Anne said she is “old enough to remember when the opening ceremony was only the athletes.” She says “the balance has gone too far the other way.”

Sneak peek

Earlier this week, performers, dignitaries and IOC staff were on hand for the first official dress rehearsal. All in attendance we were predictably tight-lipped about what they saw (and recording devices of any kind were strictly forbidden) but even from the outside, a few hints about what’s in store were given.

Loud music and light displays could be heard and seen through the roof of the stadium as part of the rehearsals which lasted a little over two hours and ended in a crescendo of fireworks.

His guess is as good as anyone's when it comes to what Sochi has up its sleeve, but the man who choreographed the opening ceremony in Vancouver four years ago says the show is an event like no other.

"In your life there are not going to be so many chances like that — to reach so high, to risk so much," Jean Grand-Maitre told CBC Thursday. "I think I auditioned 30,000 people to perform in the opening ceremonies ... and everybody gave it everything they had and then you're waiting to see how it will turn out."

The ceremony will be Russia’s chance to show off to the world. But the domestic audience is also key. After an underwhelming poor performance of only three gold medals in Vancouver, Russia is eager to see a big medal haul in Sochi.

"This ceremony can only help motivate our guys," said Russian bobsled coach Oleg Sokolov. "You have to visit this kind of event, especially when the whole stadium is cheering for you."

Alexander Zubkov, a 39-year-old heading into his fifth Olympics, has been tasked with carrying the Russian flag. But we still don’t know what other athletes may play prominent roles.

Women's hockey icon Hayley Wickenheiser will be Canada's flag-bearer. She says NHL star and men's hockey player Sidney Crosby gave her a piece of advice for what to do with Canada's maple leaf tomorrow: "wave it high and don’t trip." 

Questions remain

But who will light the Olympic cauldron? Russian hockey great Vladislav Tretiak — among the best to ever play the game — has said he'll take part, and some speculate he'll be Putin's choice for the high honour of the opening ceremony.

With a price tag of more than $50 billion, Sochi is already the most expensive Olympic Games ever. So it’s unlikely that the people in charge of the party to start it all off cut any corners or spared any expenses.

Sochi organizers are quick to note that 65 heads of state and government and international organizations will be on hand to take in the festivities — more than three times the number of leaders who came to Vancouver’s games.

But it’s hard to ignore the absence of some major world leaders: President Barack Obama, French President Francois Hollande, British Prime Minister David Cameron and German President Joachim Gauck. Canada’s Stephen Harper also won’t be in attendance.

More than anyone else, however, one world leader is likely to be front and centre: Vladimir Putin. The Russian president has staked his entire reputation that the Sochi games will be a success, and a testament to modern Russia’s power and influence.

There are rumours that Putin may have reserved the honour of lighting the Olympic flame for himself. We’ll find out what Russia has in store when the ceremony starts at 11 a.m. eastern time Friday.

Watch it all unfold on CBC.

(With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press)

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