SOCHI, Russia: 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 on Sunday after a clean sweep of the men’s 50km cross country race thanks to Alexander Legkov, Maxim Vylegzhanin and Ilia Chernousov.