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Zen and the art of opening ceremonies... Sochi Olympics' creative director Konstantin Ernst gets philosophical

Sunday, 9 February 2014 - 8:25am IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph

Forget the athletes. The gold medal for the bravest participant at the Sochi Winter Olympics goes to Konstantin Ernst, the creative director behind the opening ceremony.

Yesterday (Saturday) Ernst demonstrated a Zen-like calm in the face of the embarrassing - and potentially career-threatening - failure of one of the giant Olympic rings to open at the start of the ceremony.

With Vladimir Putin glowering inside the Fisht Olympic Stadium, the prospect loomed of Mr Ernst being removed from the ski slopes of Sochi and transported to the icy wastes of Siberia.

If he was worried for his future, however, Mr Ernst was not showing it. Far from retreating into silence or trying to blame an underling, he drew on what he claimed were Buddhist teachings to deflect attention from the fact that only four Olympic rings rather than five were visible. "Zen Buddhists have this idea that when you have a perfectly polished sphere, you should leave a notch in it so you can understand just how perfectly it is polished," Mr Ernst explained. "In technical terms, the rings were the simplest thing in the whole show. They turned out to be our notch."

He went on: "This is certainly bad, but it does not humiliate us."

Whether or not it was in fact just a hallmark of brilliance, it seems that Russian television did its best to prevent viewers seeing the error at the start of the ceremony, which was beamed around the world. Minutes into the proceedings, five giant snowflakes were supposed to open out into the Olympic rings. Only four did, prompting an accompanying fireworks display to be cancelled too. Russian state television cut away from the live ceremony to broadcast recorded image from a rehearsal earlier in the week, which showed the five rings lit up and joined together. It then showed the fireworks display from the practice.

The deceit has echoes of the Beijing Olympics in 2008, when it emerged that fireworks exploding into the shape of gigantic footprints were faked by television.

Yesterday, the Olympic authorities were relaxed about the blunder. "I don't see what the problem is to be honest," said Mark Adams, the International Olympic Committee spokesman.

Ernst's own sanguine response may have something to do with his close friendship with his country's president. The 52 year-old is director-general of Channel One, the state television channel, and is a television personality in his own right. He is credited with orchestrating Russia's annual Victory Day parade, which takes place in May, as well as an annual television phone-in programme in which Mr Putin speaks to ordinary Russians.

Asked what Putin had made of the ceremony, Dmitry Chernyshenko, the president of the Sochi 2014 organising committee, said: "After the finishing of the opening ceremony, the president expressed his gratitude toward the team, to the deputy prime minister [Dmitry] Kozak and all the creative team. He was satisfied with the result."

Ernst will have breathed a Buddha-sized sigh of relief.


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