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Sochi 2014

Farewell, Sochi! Russia closes costly, political, controversial Olympics

Openly bisexual speedskater Ireen Wüst of the Netherlands captured the most medals in Sochi, earning two gold and three silver
Sunday, February 23, 2014
Matt Slocum, APThe Olympic flame burns at sunset before the closing ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Sochi, Russia.

Matt Slocum, AP
The Olympic flame burns at sunset before the closing ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Sochi, Russia.

SOCHI, Russia — Flushed with pride after a spectacular showing at the costliest Olympics ever, Russia celebrated 17 days of sport-driven global unity on Sunday night with a farewell show that hands off the Winter Games to their next host, Pyeongchang in South Korea. Said the head of the International Olympic Committee: “Russia delivered all what it had promised.”

Raucous spectators chanted “Ro-ssi-ya! Ro-ssi-ya!” — “Russia! Russia!” — before being surrounded by multicolored fireworks and carried through a visually stunning, sometimes surrealistic panorama of Russian history and culture. The crowd was in a party mood after the high-security games passed off safely without feared terror attacks.

Pavel Golovkin, APIreen Wust of the Netherlands flashes three fingers indicating her third Olympic gold medal, during the flower ceremony after winning gold in the women's 3,000-meter speedskating race at the Adler Arena Skating Center during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014, in Sochi, Russia.

Pavel Golovkin, AP
Openly bisexual speedskater Ireen Wüst of the Netherlands captured the most medals at the Winter Games in Sochi, earning five medals overall — two gold and three silver.

Matthias Schrader, APAthletes march into the arena during the closing ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Sochi, Russia.

Matthias Schrader, AP
Athletes march into the arena during the closing ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Sochi, Russia.

Gregorio Borgia, APArtists perform near the Olympic Flag during the closing ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Sochi, Russia.

Gregorio Borgia, AP
Artists perform near the Olympic Flag during the closing ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Sochi, Russia.

Ivan Sekretarev, APPerformers sing on stage before the start of the closing ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Sochi, Russia.

Ivan Sekretarev, AP
Performers sing on stage before the start of the closing ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Sochi, Russia.

David J. Phillip, APSouth Korean artists perform during the closing ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. Pyeongchang will host the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.

David J. Phillip, AP
South Korean artists perform during the closing ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. Pyeongchang will host the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.

“This is the new face of Russia — our Russia,” said Dmitry Chernyshenko, head of the Sochi organizing committee. He called the games “a moment to cherish and pass on to the next generations.”

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’ power to wow and concentrate global attention and massive resources.

“Now we can see our country is very friendly,” said Boris Kozikov of St. Petersburg, Russia. “This is very important for other countries around the world to see.”

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. All-new facilities, unthinkable in the Soviet era of drab shoddiness, showcased how far Russia has come in the two decades since it turned its back on communism.

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. And while security was a potential problem going in, it appeared to be a big success coming out: Feared attacks by Islamic militants who threatened to target the games didn’t materialize.

Despite the bumps along the way, IOC President Thomas Bach used the closing ceremony to deliver an robustly upbeat verdict of the games, his first as IOC president. He was particularly enthusiastic about the host city itself.

“What took decades in other parts of the world was achieved here in Sochi in just seven years,” Bach said in declaring the games closed.

As dusk fell, 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,” a buzzword born at these games for the fad of athletes and spectators taking DIY souvenir photos of themselves.

Russia celebrated itself and its rich gifts to the worlds of music and literature in the ceremony. Performers in smart tails and puffy white wigs performed a ballet of grand pianos, pushing 62 of them around the stadium floor while soloist Denis Matsuev played thunderous bars from Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No.2.

There was, of course, also ballet, with dancers from the Bolshoi and the Mariinsky, among the world’s oldest ballet companies. The faces of Russian authors through the ages were projected onto enormous screens, and a pile of books transformed into a swirling tornado of loose pages.

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 record 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. Earlier, giant screens flashed highlights of their Olympic exploits. 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.

Putin smiled as he stood beside Bach, and he had reason to be pleased.

Russia’s athletes topped the Sochi medals table, both in golds and total — 33. That 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.

Russia’s golden run started with aging star Evgeni Plushenko leading Russia to victory in team figure skating. Putin was on hand for that, one of multiple times when he popped up at venues across the games.

Russia’s last gold came Sunday in four-man bobsled. The games’ signature moment for home fans was Adelina Sotnikova, cool as ice at 17, becoming Russia’s first gold medalist in women’s Olympic figure skating.

Not all of the headlines out of Sochi were about sport. Organizers faced criticism going in about Russia’s strict policies toward gays, though once the games were under way, most every athlete chose not to use the Olympic spotlight to campaign for the cause. And an activist musical group and movement, Pussy Riot, appeared in public and was horsewhipped by Cossack militiamen, drawing international scrutiny.

And during the last days of competition, Sochi competed for attention with violence in Ukraine, Russia’s neighbor and considered a vital sphere of influence by the Kremlin.

In an Associated Press interview on Saturday, Bach singled out Ukraine’s victory in women’s biathlon relay as “really an emotional moment” of the games, praising Ukrainian athletes for staying to compete despite the scores dead in protests back home.

“Mourning on the one hand, but knowing what really is going on in your country, seeing your capital burning, and feeling this responsibility, and then winning the gold medal,” he said, “this really stands out for me.”

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41 more reader comments:

  1. Fuck Russia….with a barb wire dildo!!

    Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 7:33pm
  2. The USSR is a joke and so were the Olympics!

    Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 7:33pm
  3. You mean Russia, Lenin actually decriminalized homosexuality and was willing to try to comprehend it and learn from it. Stalin fucked it up

    Replied on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 8:32pm
  4. I fail go grasp your comment. In what way were the Sochi Olympics a joke?

    Replied on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 10:57pm
  5. Finally

    Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 7:34pm
  6. This doesn’t mean that we are going to forget about your unjust laws, Russia. This is only the beginning. You will see and hear more from us around the World.

    Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 7:36pm
  7. indeed we will. a revolution is brewing.

    Replied on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 9:14pm
  8. Let the Hunger Games begin.

    Replied on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 9:32pm
  9. I will be watching the Paralympics on 7th March.

    Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 7:36pm
  10. The LGBT movement shall Rise…our voices will not be silenced

    Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 7:38pm
  11. And the workers can finally go back to finish building the hotels.

    Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 7:39pm
  12. Well it’s about damn time

    Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 7:41pm
  13. Good riddance to this, human rights violating, piece of crap country …. and it’s horrendous ruler !!! And Shame on tge Olympic Committee for Not doing the right thing and Pulling tge games out of the horrid country …..

    Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 7:42pm
  14. No one cares about russia

    Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 7:42pm
  15. Glad the “games of hate” are over. Never watched any of it or paid any attention. Russia can rot in hell and so can the IOC for awarding the games to such a backward hell hole of a country.

    Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 7:44pm
  16. Olympics ? What olympics ?

    Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 7:45pm
  17. I enjoyed watching the games and the athletes but glad to leave Russia behind and hope our community will be safe and maybe someday see changes

    Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 7:51pm
  18. cuz america is SO much better. /sarcasm

    Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 7:57pm
  19. Good Riddance! The Olympics is nothing but a sad, expensive joke.

    Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 8:00pm
  20. They should have never hosted the Olympics.

    Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 8:13pm
  21. ADIOS

    Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 8:19pm
  22. Bye bitch! Seriously, now that they are over and after watching the documentary “Hunted”, I feel even more fearful now for the LGBT people in Russia. America isn’t perfect but in this situation it’s light years ahead of Russia because the Russian government condones the anti gay vigilante violence while the US government on a national level does not.

    Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 8:20pm
  23. Russia is a magnificent nation, with an overwhelming abundance of generous-hearted, wonderful people. I am blessed to have known so many. But with the anti-LGBT laws in the books, the world will see 1 of 2 things. 1) that people like me do not deserve equal treatment under the law. That can be the message Russia sends out to the world, that they’ve chosen to lead uncultured, barbaric and uncivilised societies in a new planet-dividing crusade of hate. Or, possibly, 2) that people of good will and good heart will seize the reins of power and restore to the world the promise of hope and peace that Russia represented 23 years ago when it shed the Soviet yoke. That is the Russia of the future that I want to see, a Russia that inspires everyone living through its example of surviving adversity and championing diversity. May it happen.

    Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 8:20pm
  24. Now the games are over, how long will it be before our fellow LGBT brothers and sisters are forgotten about, how do we keep there struggle in people’s minds, will the media just forget about what is going on over there xx

    Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 8:25pm
  25. I am STILLWorried about the cats and dogs!!!!

    Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 8:28pm
  26. The International LGBT community should never forget the Discrimination and Persecution that the LGBT community in Russia is suffering!

    Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 8:30pm
  27. From Russia with Love What they said What a insult to 007 Bond

    Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 8:33pm
  28. I will be sure to tune in for the next Olympics

    Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 8:39pm
  29. Good riddance!

    Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 8:44pm
  30. Sorry, but fuck the 2014 olympics. Russia says I’m not a person, Russia is not a country as far as I’m concerned. Everything russian made was tossed from this house.

    Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 9:04pm
  31. Goodbye Russia. Don’t come back.

    Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 9:23pm
  32. Hallefuckinglujah!!! :)

    Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 9:50pm
  33. Finally!

    Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 9:51pm
  34. I’d bet you 100% that Russia will never get the olympics EVER AGAIN!!!!

    Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 9:53pm
  35. To Hell with Putin.

    Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 10:36pm
  36. It was spectacular.

    Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 10:56pm
  37. Worried for the animals there

    Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 10:58pm
  38. Yeah!!!!!!

    Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 11:01pm
  39. So that’s done. Back to openly destroying human rights. Oy Mondays…

    Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 11:16pm
  40. Good.

    Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 11:18pm
  41. Hopefully they’ll never get any other Olympic or worldwide events as long as they keep treating gays and animals the way they do…

    Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 11:23pm