SOCHI, Feb 24 – Sochi’s $50 billion Olympics, closely interwoven with President Vladimir Putin’s image and plagued by controversy in the build-up, closed Sunday with bold praise and Russia supreme on top of the medals table.
In a glitzy closing ceremony, aimed at conveying a confident state at ease with its past as well as present, International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach said “Russia delivered all what it had promised”.
“What took decades in other parts of the world was achieved here in just seven years,” he said.
“I would like to thank the President of the Russian Federation, Mr. Vladimir Putin, for his personal commitment to the extraordinary success of these Olympic Winter Games.”
Just over two weeks ago, Bach, aware of the wide-scale global resentment over Russia’s notorious anti-gay law, had made an impassioned call for politicians to stay out of sports.
On Sunday, he insisted that those involved in the organisation of the Sochi Games had revealed a Russia to be respected.
“Everybody with an open mind could see the face of a new Russia — efficient and friendly, patriotic and open to the world,” he said.
Bach then closed the Black Sea coast showpiece in the traditional manner of looking ahead ot the next Games in South Korea in 2018.
“I declare the 22nd Olympic Winter Games closed. In accordance with tradition, I call upon the youth of the world to assemble four years from now in PyeongChang to celebrate with us the 23rd Olympic Winter Games.”
In a touching nod to its own sporting history, the Olympic cauldron was then extinguished by a giant, tearful bear, taking older Russians back to the 1980 Moscow Summer Games and its much-loved bear mascot, Misha.
Russia guaranteed top spot in the medals table earlier Sunday after a clean sweep of the men’s 50km cross country race thanks to Alexander Legkov, Maxim Vylegzhanin and Ilia Chernousov.
– Six doping cases –
The hosts then hammered home their supremacy when Alexander Zubkov claimed his second gold in Sochi by leading the four-man bobsleigh team to victory.
Russia ended their own Games with 13 golds and a total of 33 medals, topping the table ahead of Norway.
Canada had the honour of claiming the last gold when they comfortably defended their ice hockey title with a 3-0 win over Sweden.
But in a reality check, Games officials had revealed that more competitors had failed drugs tests taking the total to six.
Austrian cross-country skier Johannes Duerr, who had been due to take part in the men’s 50km, tested positive for blood booster EPO in a pre-competition test in Austria on February 16.
The Austrian took part on February 9 in the skiathlon, finishing eighth. But he tested positive for EPO a week later in Obertilliach, Austria.
Late Sunday, it was revealed that Swedish ice hockey player Nicklas Backstrom had tested positive for a banned substance present in allergy medication and had been withdrawn from the Olympics final.
Ukrainian cross country skier Marina Lisogor, Latvian men’s ice hockey player Vitalijs Pavlovs, German biathlete Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle and Italian bobsledder William Frullani all failed tests at the Games.
Despite the late flurry of doping shocks, Russian officials were keen to bask in the 17-day showpiece that passed off relatively unscathed.
“The ice of the scepticism towards the new Russia has been broken,” said Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak.
In the last event, NHL superstar Sidney Crosby scored in the second period as Canada claimed a record ninth gold and the first on European soil in 62 years.
Jonathan Toews and Chris Kunitz also scored and goaltender Carey Price posted the shutout for Canada.
“We played solid and we didn’t give anything up in the last few games — we played the way we needed to and it’s great to see everyone get rewarded,” said Crosby.