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Olympics: Farewell, Sochi! Russia closes successful 2014 games

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(SOCHI, RUSSIA - JANUARY 23: A woman poses for pictures with the Olympic rings and flame during the Closing Ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Olympics at Fisht Olympic Stadium Sunday February 23, 2014. (Photo by Chris Detrick/The Salt Lake Tribune) )

By kurt kragthorpe | The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Feb 23 2014 10:39AM
Updated Feb 23, 2014 10:42PM

Sochi, Russia • With more than 200 clowns, 63 pianos and dozens of ballet dancers in Sunday’s closing ceremony, Russia celebrated its successful staging of the 22nd Winter Olympics.

The Games went so well that the Russians were willing to make fun of themselves in the ceremony’s opening scene. As the 1,000 performers symbolized the Olympic rings, a cluster of them huddled together, re-enacting how one of five snowflakes failed to evolve into a ring in the opening ceremony at Fisht Olympic Stadium.

Russia certainly recovered from that glitch in the 16 days that followed. The original script for the closing ceremony may have called for a celebration of Russia’s hockey victory in the gold medal game, staged earlier Sunday at the nearby Bolshoi Ice Dome. A quarterfinal defeat short-circuited that plan.

Otherwise, Russia’s execution of the Games and its athletic performance far exceeded expectations, capped by victories Sunday in cross-country skiing and bobsled. The closing ceremony observed the country’s rich heritage of art, music and ballet, with piano and violin performers and a tribute to the Bolshoi and Mariinsky theaters.

In one memorable scene, piano soloist Denis Matsuev performed as 248 actors maneuvered 62 other pianos around the stage. The segment introducing PyeongChang, Korea, as host of the 2018 Winter Games, featured the Gayageum, a traditional instrument with 12 strings.

Korea will have much to live up to following Sochi’s Games. U.S. Olympic Committee administrators expressed thanks and admiration for the way everything came together and how efficiently the Games were operated. And the Russian athletes performed wonderfully, earning 33 medals to 28 for America, the nearest competitor.

Judging issues arose after the surprising figure skating victory of Adlina Sotnikova, and the Russians benefited from the success of a Korean speedskater and an American-born snowboarder. That’s not to discount an overwhelming effort by the host country, which last topped the medals table in 1994.

And with the help of 40,000 security personnel and 25,000 volunteers, the Games were managed effectively.

"Russia has delivered on its promise," said Dmitry Chernyshenko, president of Sochi’s organizing committee, in his speech. "This is the new face of Russia, our Russia."

Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, said in a news conference Sunday that Sochi’s Games proved critics wrong: "What counts most is the opinions of the athletes and they were enormously satisfied."

Highlights were shown intermittently during the ceremony, with Park City snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg identified as 2014’s first gold medalist.

Seamus O’Connor, a 16-year-old snowboarder from Park City, carried Ireland’s flag in the ceremony after competing for his grandparents’ native country. Many athletes whose events were staged early in the schedule had returned home, but others savored the last moments of these Games.

"Enjoying another great show," skier Brita Sigourney said via Twitter.

Ski jumper Anders Johnson said of the Olympics, "It’s already over?"

Near the end of the show, the Games’ polar bear mascot blew out an Olympic flame as a tear trickled down its cheek. The cauldron outside the stadium was extinguished and 2,000 children took the stage carrying yellow flowers, as one season replaced another and fireworks erupted outside in the Olympic Park.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com" target="_blank">class="TEXT_no_Indent">kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt

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