Flushed with pride after a spectacular showing at the costliest Olympics ever, Russia celebrated 17 days of sport-driven global unity with a farewell show that hands off the Winter Games to their next host, Pyeongchang in South Korea.
Fireworks and a countdown kicked off the closing ceremony in the Fisht Olympic Stadium, packed with raucous spectators who chanted “Ro-ssi-ya! Ro-ssi-ya!” —”Russia! Russia!” — and were in a party mood.
In a charming touch, the Sochi organizers used the ceremony to make a joke at their own expense. Dancers in shimmering silver costumes formed themselves into four rings and a clump in the center of the stadium. That was a wink to a technical glitch in the Feb. 7 opening ceremony, when one of the five Olympic rings in a wintry opening scene failed to open. The rings were supposed to join together and erupt in fireworks.
This time, it worked: As Russian President Vladimir Putin watched from the stands, the dancers in the clump waited a few seconds and then formed a ring of their own, making five, drawing laughs from the crowd.
The closing ceremony, a farewell from Russia with love, pageantry and protocol, started at 20:14 local time — a nod to the year that Putin seized upon to remake Russia’s image with the Olympics.
The nation’s $51 billion investment —topping even Beijing’s estimated $40 billion layout for the 2008 Summer Games — transformed a decaying resort town on the Black Sea into a household name. But the Olympic show didn’t win over critics of Russia’s backsliding on democracy and human rights under Putin and its institutionalized intolerance of gays.
Goodbye the flame
As dusk fell Sunday, Russians and international visitors streamed into the stadium for the ceremony featuring the extinguishing of the Olympic flame. Day and night, the flame became a favorite backdrop for “Sochi selfies”.
Athletes were saying goodbye to rivals-turned-friends from far off places, savoring their achievements or lamenting what might have been — and, for some, looking ahead to 2018.
Winners of Russia’s 13 gold medals marched into the stadium carrying the country’s white, blue and red flag, which was raised alongside the Olympic flag. Athletes streamed by their hundreds into the stadium, dancing and taking photos of themselves. With a 3-0 victory over Sweden in the men’s hockey final Sunday, Canada claimed the last gold from the 98 medal events.
Absent were six competitors caught by what was the most extensive anti-doping program in Winter Olympic history, with the IOC conducting a record 2,631 tests — nearly 200 more than originally planned.
Russia’s athletes topped the Sochi medals table, with a record 33 total. It represented a stunning turnaround from the 2010 Vancouver Games. There, a meagre 3 golds and 15 total for Russia seemed proof of its gradual decline as a winter sports power since Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Russia’s bag of Sochi gold was the biggest-ever haul by a non-Soviet team.