By Nick Butler at the Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi

The Olympic Cauldron is finally lit to highlight the Opening Ceremony here this evening  ©AFP/Getty ImagesFebruary 7 – In front of a pulsated and captivated crowd, the Olympic Games were declared open here this evening in an Opening Ceremony illustrating the best of both sport and Russia.

After an opening sequence, the parade of athletes took place earlier than expected - with each country highlighted on a projected image of Earth from Space as they paraded.

This was followed by a fascinating tribute through Russian history before speeches by Sochi 2014 Organising Committee President Dmitry Chernyshenko and International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach.

To a cascade of thunderbolts, the Games was then declared open by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Vladimir Putin declared the Games open ©Getty ImagesVladimir Putin declared the Games open ©Getty Images

But the question on everyone's lips concerned who would light the Flame?

First, four high-profile Russian sporting names of recent decades - in tennis player Maria Sharapova, pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva, wrestler Aleksandr Karelin and gymnast Alina Kabaeva - embarked on a lap around the stadium.

The Flame was then handed to three-times ice hockey gold medallist Vladislav Tretiak and three-times pairs figure skating gold champion Irina Rodnina, who together ran out of the Stadium with the Torch in their hands.

In the shadow of the huge cauldron, they they then lit it, with flames shooting upwards into the Sochi sky as fireworks reverberated around the Olympic Park.

Vladislav Tretiak and Irina Rodnina carry the Flame out of the Stadium to light the Olympic Cauldron ©AFP/Getty ImagesVladislav Tretiak and Irina Rodnina carry the Flame out of the Stadium to light the Olympic Cauldron ©AFP/Getty Images

While the build-up to the Games was clouded by a variety of security and human rights concerns, hopes were always high that, when it did get underway, it would be with Olympic values at the forefront.

Discounting the rumours of a failed attempt to divert a plane to Sochi which circulated halfway through the Ceremony - this was exactly what happened.

With security around the Park efficient but by no means obtrusive, the Stadium gradually began to fill up as the last embers of daylight gave way.

By the time the screens dotted around the 40,000 capacity Stadium began a 60 second countdown to 20:14, the crowd were already roused into an excited stupor thanks to pop band t.A.T.u and various other light-themed and "hug a neighbour" style entertainments.

After a traditional Russian village was paraded across the Stadium on a series of floats, a surprise was sprung when the parade of athletes occurred not, as is the general norm, towards the end of the Ceremony, but at the beginning.

As ever there was an interesting political subtext to the Parade, with the fact that athletes from Israel were followed out by those from Iran particularly intriguing. 

But the crowd kept up vocal support all the way through, with the best reception being reserved for those with the best outfits - Kazakhstan - or the most enthusiastic flagbearers - Venezuela - before the loudest cheer of all greeted the Russian team.

In the reverse of what we saw during the London 2012 Opening Ceremony, the historical element then followed the Parade.

A traditional Russian troika, as seen in the Torch Relay, was an early part of the historical section ©McClatchy-Tribune/Getty ImagesA traditional Russian troika, as seen in the Torch Relay, was an early part of the historical section ©McClatchy-Tribune/Getty Images

In a fascinating whistlestop tour we glimpsed Russian history in all its glory - from the majesty of Peter the Great's Russian Navy, the cruelty of Ivan the Terrible, and the beauty of the first ball of Natasha Rostova in Tolstoy's War and Peace.

Unlike with Beijing 2008, neither did the 20th century miss out as tributes were paid to industrialisation and the Russian Revolution, as well as to the Soviet era reconstruction which followed - before a "dream-like" section anticipating Russia's future.

The world was then "welcomed to the 2014 Olympics Winter Games in Sochi" by the head of the Sochi Organising Committee Dmitry Chernyhenko.

"Our city is unique, as all of Russia is unique", he said.

"We are proud to have the privilege to host the entire world".

The floor was then handed to IOC President Thomas Bach who - in a characteristically long but emotional and meaningful address - declared that "tonight we arrive at a new page in Olympic history.

"What took decades in other parts of the world has happened here in just seven years", he added before thanking workers for a "great contribution under some time difficult circumstances".

After several messages reaching out to Olympians competing at the Games, Bach once again underlined how the Olympic Games should be a "bridge bringing people together, rather than keeping them apart".

In this vein, he asked world leaders to "respect the Olympic messages" and to "have the courage to address disagreements in the correct environment and not on the backs of these athletes" in a reference to the many who had chosen not to attend.

Once the flag had been lit, the Olympic Anthem was played and, as tradition dictates, "doves of peace" circled the Stadium.

Doves of Peace in the Olympic Stadium ©Toronto Star/Getty ImagesDoves of Peace in the Olympic Stadium ©Toronto Star/Getty Images

Although the evening was not flawless, with one of the five Olympic rings not appearing lit at the beginning of the Ceremony, and the event was missing some of the humour of London 2012, it certainly achieved its aim of illustrating Russia's values, history and heritage. 

The emphasis will now be on Sochi to continue this warm, enthusiastic and efficient welcome as sporting action begins in earnest here from tomorrow.