SOCHI, Russia: Sochi’s $50 billion Olympics, plagued by a chorus of fears over terrorism and civil rights in the build-up, close Sunday with Russia hailing a Games wrapped up in the image of President Vladimir Putin.
Just three more golds are left to be decided on the final day with Canada’s bid to defend their men’s ice hockey title the highlight of the programme.
But ahead of the closing ceremony, which is due to start at 1600 GMT, Russian officials are keen to bask in a 16-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.
“The Games have made the country, the culture, and the people a little closer and more understandable for the world.”
The International Olympic Committee’s executive director for the Olympic Games, Gilbert Felli, said that the Sochi Olympics have been “of a very high level”.
“What the bid committed in 2007 has been delivered,” he added.
Before the Olympic flag is passed to 2018 hosts Pyeongchang, the battle for the top in the medals table will be decided with Russia and Norway both locked on 11 golds.
Defending champions Canada tackle Sweden in the hockey final with both sides boasting 5-0 winning records in the tournament.
The Sidney Crosby-led Canadians have a star-filled squad while Sweden boast the best goaltender in the tournament, Henrik Lundqvist.
“It could be another 1-0 game,” said Canada forward Matt Duchene. “It wouldn’t surprise me with the way Sweden plays.”
Canada are bidding to become the first team to retain the Olympic gold medal since the Soviet Union in 1988.
Crosby, who scored the winning goal in overtime to lift Canada to a 3-2 victory over the USA in the gold medal match at the 2010 Vancouver Games, has just two assists in five games.
Crosby said he is not thinking about individual statistics.
Asked if he was thinking about the possibility of scoring another golden goal, Crosby said: “I don’t think that goes through your mind. It is another opportunity for us.
“We all worked a long and hard time to get to play in the gold medal game. Ultimately we need to be our best when it means the most here in the final.”
Sweden’s best player so far has been defenceman Erik Karlsson, who is the tournament co-leader in points with four goals and eight points in five games.
Both Sweden and Canada have been getting big offensive performances from their defence. Canada’s leading goal scorer in the tournament is defenceman Drew Doughty, with four goals.
Cross country skier Dario Cologna of Switzerland eyes a third gold in Sochi in the gruelling 50km having already won two titles in skiathlon and the 15km classic.
In four-man bobsleigh, the United States defend their title with Germany, Switzerland and Russia among their main rivals.
Russia led after Saturday’s first two heats with Alexander Zubkov enjoying a slender 0.04sec advantage over Latvia. AFP