The Soviet Union opened the 22nd Olympiad today with a burst of pageantry unequaled in Olympic history, a spectacle that dazzled a crowd of 103,000 at Lenin Stadium and millions elsewhere -- but could not escape the bitter impact of world outrage over the Afghanistan invasion.
The ceremony unfolded with color and action and lasted more than three hours. It mixed moments of solemnity and political acrimony in a way that symbolized the hopes and intense troubles swirling through international relations and the Olympic movement itself.
Eighty-one nations joined the traditional parade of athletes, the smallest number since the 1956 Melbourne Games, and 16 of these signaled their opposition to the military intervention by refusing to carry their nation's flags.
Six of the protesting but participating nations also refused to send their teams to march before Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev and the Kremlin Politburo, who watched the ceremony from an official box draped in the red bunting of Lenin's revolutionary movement.
Intense applause swept the stadium as each team, even those in protest, was announced and marched before the official viewing stand, which included outgoing International Olympic Committee President Lord Killanin and his wife.
But the greatest applause pealed triumph for the Soviets, who doggedly pressed on with their Olympic preparations in the months after the White House launched the Olympic boycott following the Red Army's arrival in Kabul last December.
Earlier, before the ceremonies officially started, the crowd cheered when an American flag suddenly blossomed in the stands at the south end of the stadium. Held aloft by American tourists who are among only 3,000 expected here because of the boycott, it was the only sign of the United States to be seen at the ceremony. This is the first Olympics since the modern era began with the 1896 Athens Games that the Americans have not competed.
In their absence, competition in track and field, swimming and numerous other sports will be greatly diminished. But the Soviets, who passionately love sports as a fair -- nonpolitical -- test of excellence, cheered mightily when the Socialist East Germans, Romanians, Cubans and Poles appeared. This was comradely pleasure and lusty anticipation of tough competition.
The crowd cheered such protesting teams as the British, who sent only their chef de mission beneath the flag of the British Olympic Association, and the other nations who showed their opprobrium by marching under Olympic flags of various kinds, and withholding full delegations.
Soviet television, which broadcast the pageant live to the nation and supplied the same coverage to hundreds of millions elsewhere in the world, made short, censorious shrift of these public protests. It briefly showed the Australian team numbering 150, the three-member team of Andorra, under the white flag with five interlocking rings of the IOC. And it televised the Belgian placard, held aloft by a Soviet standard bearer.
But when Great Britain, 13th in the parade order, appeared with only Chef de Mission Dick Palmer holding the OIC flag aloft, the Soviet commentator declared, "There is the clumsy plot that you all can see, against the traditions of the Olympic movement." He said the action was linked to the U.S. boycott, carried out by "nations that are in conflict with their governments."
From then on, Soviet TV editors simply refused to show viewers the other protesting teams: France, Italy, Luxembourg, Holland, San Marino and Switzerland, which refused to send any athletes and had other representatives march under Olympic flags; and Spain, Ireland, New Zealand, Puerto Rico and Portugal, which sent some athletes but also carried Olympic flags.
Flag-waving at these politically charged Moscow Olympics has become an intense if, at times, seemingly obscure public act. Such protests, peaceful and, in fact, colorful here today, will, with all the surrounding spectacle, have special meaning to the Soviets who set great store by the trappings of nationhood and power.
Moscow today looked like a royal city at coronation time. Thousands of gray-uniformed police in dress-white caps and gloves waved columns of cars and buses toward Lenin Stadium, four miles southwest of Lenin's mausoleum in Red Square.
Moscovites, thinned out by about 2 million this summer and frightened from the streets in recent days because of the immense police presence, paused, anyway, amid their weekend shopping chores to watch the passing show.
Freshly painted along all major routes, the city is festooned with the bright Olympic colors of red, green, blue and yellow, hung from buildings as bunting or in massed flags along the streets. The fifth Olympic color, black, is less easy to find. Huge signs proclaim "Sport! Peace! Progress!"
The Central Lenin Stadium, focal point of the ceremony, was awash in police and grim-faced civilians in green and white nylon outfits demanding to see tickets and documents of all. But once inside the grounds, where major track and field and other sports will take place -- the actual competition starts Sunday -- a festive air prevailed.
The huge crowd was in place well before the actual ceremony began at 4 p.m. Across from Brezhnev's box one whole section of the stadium, more than 4,000 seats, was occupied by a card section of precisely trained Soviet Army conscripts.
Like an enormous television set, the card section instantly flashed from blank red, to the Olympic flag, to the Moscow Olympic symbol, a stylized column of five lines surmounted by a star. Flat cards of color faded, to be replaced by undulating fields of green, red and yellow silk.
A few minutes before 4 o'clock, Tschaikovsky's majestic first piano concerto flowed forth from the public address system and magically the card section changed into the great seal of the USSR, complete with gold hammer and sickle in the center and then Leonid Brezhnev stepped forth.
As the chimes of Spassky Tower on the Kremlin rang the hour, the stadium rose to the Soviet national anthem and Brezhnev, who returned here from his Black Sea vacation to preside at the opening, stood stiffly in view, dressed in a conservative gray suit, white shirt and tie.
The 73-year-old Communist Party chief and president, who has said the coming of the Olympaid to Soviet soil is an affirmation of the country's policies, formally declared the Games open with this brief sentence in Russian: "I declare open the games of Moscow celebrating the 22nd Olympiad of the modern era."
In introducing Brezhnev, IOC President Killanin touched directly on the boycott: "I would like to welcome all the athletes and officials, especially those who have shown their complete independence to travel, to compete, despite the strong pressures placed upon them."
The track infield was ringed with young women in beige dresses and green slouch hats, holding scarves of Olympic colors, and a column of youths dressed in ancient Greek costumes carried in the Olympic rings and the Moscow emblem, followed by three chariots carrying girls who threw rose petals for the athletes to walk on.
The Greek team was first in the parade by tradition, and then came the others, a display that took up about half the three hours. Besides the Americans, the boycotting nations include Canada, West Germany and Japan, which among them won about a third of all medals at the 1976 Montreal Games. In all, more than 50 nations did not come, most of them in protest over the invasion. The Soviets had planned for about 120 nations and built their Olympic village to accommodate more than 10,000 athletes. About 6,000 are now there, plus about 2,000 officials.
After the teams had marched and clustered in the infield, the Olympic flag was transferred by eight goose-stepping soldiers in blue blazers and hoisted atop the highest flagpole in the stadium.
Twenty-two white doves suddenly flew from the hands of the flag honor guard and within minutes the Olympic flame was borne into the stadium to a triumphant fanfare. Viktor Saneyev, three-time Olympic gold medalist in the triple jump, holding the flame high, jogged into the stadium to loud cheers and transferred it to Sergei Belov, who played on the Soviet basketball team that defeated the U.S. in the final seconds for the 1972 Munich Games championship.
Belov headed around the track to the area high above the east wall of the stadium, over the card section. Suddenly, the card section undulated and a solid path appeared among the card carriers.Belov, as though walking on waves, mounted the stadium. At the top, with a salute, he lit the Olympic flame.
What followed was also spectacular -- 16,000 young gymnasts and acrobats in bright leotards performed massed routines on the infield, then came the sudden appearance of hundreds of dancers in native dress. They represented the 15 Soviet republics and many of its smaller ethnic groupings.
It was a great show and, for a time, the troubles in Afghanistan seemed far, far away. The crowd loved it.