Sochi 2014 memories: Maria Guleghina

One year on from the best Winter Paralympics ever, world renowned soprano opera singer and IPC Honorary Board member Maria Guleghina gives her views on what it was like to be involved in the Games. 07 Mar 2015
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IPC Honorary Board Member and Russian opera singer Maria Guleghina performing during the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.

IPC Honorary Board Member and Russian opera singer Maria Guleghina performing during the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.

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By IPC

To mark one year on from the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, www.paralympic.org caught up with one of the stars of the Opening Ceremony, the world’s leading dramatic soprano Maria Guleghina.

Having performed and received standing ovations throughout the world’s foremost opera houses, Guleghina - who is a member of the International Paralympic Committee’s Honorary Board - jumped at the chance to be involved in the Sochi 2014 Winter Paralympics (you can see her performance at 1:48:00).

In a revealing interview she explains how she got involved in the Opening Ceremony, her highlights from the Games and what impact she feels they had on the host country.

What was your reaction when you were asked to be involved in the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games Opening Ceremony?

At first I was asked to participate at the Olympic Games Closing Ceremony. However, I said that as an IPC Honorary Board Member, I would much rather be a part of the Paralympic Winter Games, instead of the Olympics, as my heart lies with the Paralympians and the Paralympic Movement. So of course, I was overwhelmed when it was confirmed that I will be at the opening of the Paralympic Games.

What was it like performing in the Opening Ceremony on the ice breaker ship and were you nervous before the event?

In 2010, I have already participated at the Vancouver Olympics Closing Ceremony, so I was used to the stadium atmosphere and the excitement, and also then it was also an enormous construction I was standing on top of.

But, I must admit, the Sochi Paralympic Opening Ceremony was something much more powerful. Especially considering the circumstances, I was the only IPC Honorary Board member present at the Games, and I had this important message, this “duty” to represent the Paralympians and of course my country.

Even though - I am not Russian by blood, I feel Russian, I was born and raised in the Soviet Union - I am Ukrainian, Russian, Belorussian, Armenian, etc. To me the crisis, which caused so many people to boycott the Games was a big misunderstanding. I most of all wanted to show that Russia wants peace. It was very disappointing that the Paralympic Games and the Paralympians did not receive as much attention as they should have, just because of politics!

So, yes, I was very nervous but I was very eager to make a statement - with the lullaby which I sang on top of the ice breaker, with the costume (which came by the way out of my own wardrobe!). I was supposed to wear a pretty red dress, and I said “no way”, on top of the ice breaker, with the lullaby, in these times, it has to be either white or black. Since I had nothing white with me, it ended up just black.

What was the highlight of the Paralympic Winter Games for you?

The Games themselves! I went to Rosa Khutor and watched how the athletes were racing down the mountains. I, completely healthy, would be too terrified to do this, and they are all my role models. These fearless, powerful athletes, these people with enormous will are more than just admirable!

What impact do you believe the Games have had on Russia?

A great impact! I noticed that especially now, after the Games, there are much more ramps for wheelchair users all over the big cities. I have heard obviously there is still a lot to be done for the smaller cities in Russia, but the awareness level has risen. The Paralympians have changed the overall point of view of the Russians.

Did you believe the Games would be so successful?

Yes of course! They would have been more successful if not for the political situation, but again, I think that politics should stay out of sports. I think no matter what, it is the Paralympians who deserve to be admired and it is no one’s business to point fingers at a country that is dealing with a crisis as good as it can.

Looking back, if you could change one thing about the Games what would it be?

Not let politics affect it!

Maria Guleghina is the worlds leading dramatic soprano. She has been described as the “Cinderella from Russia”, “Russian soprano with Verdi flowing through her veins” and “Vocal Miracle”. She is particularly noted for her interpretation of the title role in Tosca and Turandot.

For further information, please visit mariaguleghina.com.

The whole Opening Ceremony can be watched here. Maria Guleghina's performance starts at 1:48:00