Not quite there: While the sports facilities were completed in good time, journalists and others arrived in Sochi this week to find that some of the 40,000 new hotel rooms were far from ready and that construction workers were still hard at work on parts of the Olympic Park.

Thanks to pictures of chaotic scenes posted on Twitter, Russia's pride has not been spared.

But CNN's Ben Wyatt in Sochi reports that the picture is not all bad. His hotel has been "superb" and staff and Games volunteers are clearly making an effort to be helpful and speak English, he said.

While some media hotels and landscaping projects have not been completed on time, the sporting venues are all looking in very good condition, he said.

It'll be A-OK: The Games are President Vladimir Putin's pet project -- so the pressure is on for the Russian organizers to deliver and foster the country's reputation as a wealthy, modern state.

Chernyshenko, head of the Games, told CNN he was confident all was in hand ahead of Friday's opening ceremony.

"We are pretty sure that the minor issues are fixed," he said. "And everybody will concentrate on sport and excellence."

PROTESTS

Every Olympics has protests. But thanks to social media, Russia is facing a global backlash.

What got many people riled was Russian lawmakers' passage last summer of legislation known as the anti-gay propaganda bill. The law makes it illegal to tell children about gay equality.

Open letter: More than 200 writers from around the world signed an open letter published Thursday in the UK newspaper The Guardian, calling for a repeal of laws that have placed a "chokehold" on the right to free expression in Russia.

"As writers and artists, we cannot stand quietly by as we watch our fellow writers and journalists pressed into silence or risking prosecution and often drastic punishment for the mere act of communicating their thoughts," the letter said. Authors Salman Rushdie, Jonathan Franzen and Nobel laureates Gunter Grass and Orhan Pamuk are among the signatories.

Coordinated protests: To keep the issue in the public eye, gay rights group All Out coordinated protests in cities around the world Wednesday -- New York, London, Rio de Janeiro and Paris among them. It's also set up the Principle 6 campaign, named for the article in the Olympic Charter that promises no discrimination.

Designated site: There is a designated protest site in Sochi. But there's been criticism of organizers' decision to tuck it away in a hard-to-reach village seven miles from the main Olympic Park.

More protests may be yet to come -- perhaps even by athletes despite an Olympic Charter rule that states: "No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas."

Express yourself: Chernyshenko says visitors to Sochi have nothing to fear. "You have to understand that any discrimination by gender, by sexual orientation, or religious is prohibited in my country by constitution and also by Olympic Charter.

"Athletes are free to express themselves, and for those who want to demonstrate something we organized what we call Sochi 'speakers' corner.' "

EVENTS

Athletes strapped on their skis, snowboards and ice skates Thursday as the sporting spectacle got under way.

All together now: U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged warring leaders to take a leaf from the competitors' book. "The athletes send a unified message that people and nations can put aside their differences. If they can do that in Sochi's sporting arenas, leaders of fighters should do the same in the world's combat areas," he said Thursday.

Making the cut: Qualification rounds began for the women's moguls, and figure skaters took the ice for the team men short program and the team pairs short program.

The qualification rounds in the men's and women's slopestyle competition -- making its debut at the Sochi Games -- saw athletes whiz down a daunting course littered with bumps, rails and jumps.

Thanks, I'll pass: The aforementioned event is the one ditched by champion U.S. snowboarder and skateboarder Shaun White.

The king of cool, who's been nursing a wrist injury, withdrew Wednesday, a day after admitting the slopestyle course presented an "intimidating" challenge. He's going to focus instead on winning his third gold medal in the halfpipe, another snowboarding event.

Record numbers, record tally?: Team USA, with 230 members, will be the largest athlete delegation for any nation in Winter Olympics history. Made up of 125 men and 105 women, the team has high hopes of bringing back a record tally of medals.