Sochi Winter Olympics - President Xi attends opening ceremony

Added On February 9, 2014

The 22nd Winter Olympic Games opened on Friday night with a spectacular ceremony in Sochi, Russia.

Chinese President Xi Jinping attended the event at the invitation of his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.

Putin declared the Games open at the Fisht Olympic Stadium following a speech by Olympic chief Thomas Bach.

Bach stressed "the Olympics are about building bridges to bring people together."

President Xi rose from his seat and waved to the Chinese delegation, which was led into the stadium by star figure skater and flagbearer Tong Jian in the athletes parade.

The highlight of the opening ceremony was the lighting of the Olympic cauldron by three-time Olympic figure skating champion Irina Rodnina and legendary ice hockey player Vladislav Tretyak.

This marked the end of the Olympic flame's 65,000-kilometer journey, the longest torch relay in winter Olympic history.

After the spectacular opening ceremony, fans were thrilled as they left the lit-up stadium.

SOUNDBITE: (English) 

"The opening ceremony was superb! It's beyond my imagination. It made me extremely proud of my country Russia! And I'm so proud of the spectacular show!"

Russia, for the second time, is President Xi's first overseas destination of the year.

In March 2013, Xi made a state visit to Russia a few days after he took office as Chinese President.

Xi's appearance at the Sochi Olympic opening ceremony was the first attendance by a Chinese president at a major overseas sports event.

Observers say the move signals China's strong support for the Olympics and Russia's efforts to host the Games.

On Thursday, Xi met Putin for talks on bilateral relations as the two leaders reviewed the achievements made by China and Russia over the past year.

The two leaders also made strategic plans for bilateral cooperation in the new year, and reached consensus on strategic coordination on major international and regional issues.

China sent a 138-member delegation, including 65 athletes, to the first ever winter Olympics held in Russia.

The Chinese athletes will compete in alpine skiing, freestyle skiing, cross-country skiing, biathlon, speed skating, short track speed skating, figure skating, snowboarding and curling.

Earlier on Friday, the Chinese president met Chinese athletes and coaches in an effort to boost morale.

He told the delegates that the Chinese people would be watching, and noted that they had traveled a great distance to this Russian resort city for the event during the Spring Festival.

Xi said China had made significant progress in sports over the past few years and made breakthroughs in some winter sports while it still lags behind in others.

He wished the athletes success at the Games, saying good results are not reflected merely in the number of medals, but more in the Olympic spirit they demonstrate by constantly improving themselves and trying to excel.

China has won nine gold, 18 silver and 17 bronze medals since its winter Olympic debut in 1980.

In the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, China made significant headway, reaping a record haul of medals, finishing 7th in the final medals tally.

IOC President Bach has hailed China's contribution to sports and the Olympics.

He said Beijing's bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics will help promote sports development and the IOC appreciates China's support for the Olympic movement.

Beijing is bidding for the 2022 Winter Games with the northern city of Zhangjiakou as a co-host.

The other bidders are Almaty, Kazakhstan; Krakow, Poland; Lviv, Ukraine and Oslo, Norway.

Ahead of the opening ceremony, President Xi met UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Czech President Milos Zeman, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and Greek President Karolos Papoulias.

Nearly 3,000 athletes from 87 countries and regions will compete for 98 gold medals in seven sports at the Sochi Games.

The sports event will last until February 23rd.