SOCHI, Russia -- The townspeople of Sochi swarmed the waterfront Friday night in a proud but subdued celebration to the start of the Winter Olympics.
Thousands marched into a congested space by the South Pier with smiles and baby strollers despite serious concerns of terrorism that have weighed on the Sochi Games since the end of December when a bomber killed at least 15 in a Volgograd train station.
"Everybody should come out," said Lika Basmanova, a Moscow translator.
She dismissed issues of terrorism even with a lack of a major police presence around the city, saying "People are here because they think security is so strong."
Sochi native Natalia Litvinenko, 19, also wasn't afraid to hang out with two friends on a park bench in the tranquil city center about 15 minutes from the waterfront. Using a smartphone to translate between English and Russian, the medical student said no one she knows worries about the possibility of an attack. Instead, she talked about the joy of having the Olympics come to her hometown.
"We have waited for this for a long time," Litvinenko said.
So did a group of 100 Americans who discovered two days before the Opening Ceremony that they no longer had the rooms they had reserved on cruise ships.
Working with San Diego's Ludus Tours, some had paid for the rooms more than a year ago.
It was another example of organizational problems that have been reported leading to Opening Ceremony.
Ludus owner Adam Dailey said he works with a low profit margin to help families of Olympians get to major international sporting events. The former distance runner serves USA Luge, USA Curling and a handful of other national governing bodies who want to help athletes' parents. By Friday night, almost all of Dailey's clients had been relocated -- many to the newly constructed media housing next to Olympic Park.
They congregated at a cafe to eat platters of grilled meats and vegetables and celebrate getting a bed.
"It's a relief for everybody," said Raffaella Cinti, Ludus' point person in Sochi.
But she has more clients coming Monday, so her nightmare isn't over.
Dailey never got a good explanation as to what happened. But it sounded like a game of hotel musical chairs.
Dimitry Feld, USA Luge's manager of sponsorship and social events, was frustrated with what happened but wasn't blaming Ludus. The Soviet emigre had encouraged Americans to attend the Sochi Games because he wanted them to see a new Russia.
Instead, the experience has felt like "somebody smacked you behind the back," he said.
While organizers spent a reported $51 billion to turn Sochi into a destination spot, the crowds at the viewing areas were almost exclusively Russian. The Olympics usually is a melting pot of international sports fans, and the Sochi Games still might draw many. But the foreigners seemed to stay away from the big crowds Friday night, perhaps spooked by the intense coverage of security concerns.
Sochi organizers followed the lead of other host cities in dressing up city plazas into gathering points to make the Olympics seem more inclusive, despite limited ticket availability.
While almost every plaza overflowed in London during the Opening Ceremony two years ago, not much took place outside the pier in Sochi.
Ninety minutes before the proceedings began, about a dozen folks listened to Russian folk music on a stage near the train station. Even fewer watched a big band play at the main square near the Museum of Sports Glory.
But Sochi is one of Europe's longest cities so it was easy to disperse crowds and perhaps have better control against an attack. The Adler district, where the Olympic venues are located, held a celebration at its central park. It drew so many celebrants that the civic center experienced nightmarish traffic just before midnight.
In the end, nothing major happened. And for Sochi organizers -- as well as the city itself -- that was what they had hoped all along.
Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.
Purdy: For two hours, Sochi's problems forgotten during spectacular Opening Ceremony.
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