Organizers were confident they had achieved what they and
President Vladimir Putin set out to do — project Russia as a modern,
tolerant country that had thrown off the shackles of its Soviet
"The friendly faces, the warm Sochi sun and the glare of the Olympic
gold have broken the ice of skepticism towards the new Russia," said
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, also Putin's Olympics organizer.
"The Games have turned our country, its culture and the people into
something that is a lot closer and more appealing and understandable
for the rest of the world."
The jury is still out over whether the world agrees, but Putin is
likely to be generally pleased that the Games went smoothly, without
security scares despite Islamist militant threats and only isolated
expressions of dissent to his rule.
There were hiccups, however.
On Saturday, the Ukraine National Olympic Committee said
cross-country skier Marina Lisogor had failed a doping test, a day
after a German and Italian athlete were thrown out of Sochi for
taking banned substances.
Protest group Pussy Riot came to Sochi and drew attention to
criticism of Russia's human rights record, and the women's figure
skating competition was overshadowed by a judging scandal deemed to
have favored the hosts over South Korea's Kim Yuna.
Russia's role in the crisis in neighboring Ukraine also came under
scrutiny when a Ukrainian skier pulled out of the Games in protest
against her government and athletes from the team asked to wear
black armbands to honor those killed.
But in general it was the thrills and spills on snow and ice that
captured people's imagination, and Saturday promised another
action-packed day down in Sochi and amidst the snow-capped peaks of
the Caucasus Mountains towering in the distance.
NORWAY GETS THE GOLD
On another day of glorious sunshine, Norway's "Iron Lady" Marit
Bjoergen signed off with her third gold of the Games in the 30 km
cross-country skiing, matching her haul in Vancouver.
Compatriot Therese Johaug took silver and Kristin Stoermer Steira,
also Norwegian, claimed bronze in a rare clean sweep.
Norwegian Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, the 40-year-old whose 13 Olympic
medals make him the most decorated Winter Games athlete, hoped to
extend that record with a podium finish in the biathlon relay.
With 91 of the 98 Sochi events completed, Norway sit atop the
overall medals table in Sochi with 11 golds, one ahead of Russia and
two ahead of Canada and the United States.
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The hosts will be delighted with their showing, despite the bitter
taste of defeat in the men's ice hockey competition at the
Russia, traditionally a winter sports powerhouse, won just three
golds at the last Winter Games in Vancouver and came 11th.
The men's slalom brings down the curtain on the Alpine skiing
program, and Austria's Marcel Hirscher is the man to beat. He is
seeking to complete a triple by adding the Olympics to his World Cup
and world championship titles.
In the women's snowboard parallel slalom, Austria's Julia Dujmovits
won, and in the men's event it was Russia's Vic Wild who prevailed.
Dutch domination in speed skating is set to be underlined in the
Adler Arena where rivals will struggle to derail the orange
locomotive in the men's and women's team pursuit.
The U.S. speed skating team departs the Winter Olympics without a
medal for the first time since the 1984 Sarajevo Games after their
men's and women's team pursuit trios were both knocked out in the
first round on Friday.
The biggest sporting event still to come is the men's ice hockey
final at the futuristic Bolshoy Ice Dome on Sunday, pitting reigning
champions Canada against Sweden, who won the competition in Turin in
The final act of the February 7-23 Olympics will be the closing
ceremony at the Fisht Stadium on the Black Sea coast, one of several
gleaming new arenas constructed at huge cost for what are widely
believed to be the most expensive Games ever held.
Marco Balich, artistic executive producer of Sunday's spectacle,
said that it would present a different side of Russia to the opening
ceremony, which was a muscular expression of the country's strength,
pride and progress.
"As grand as the opening was, with this one they went for another
side of Russia — intimate, full of heart, and they (Russian
Organizers) mentioned the word 'nostalgia'," Balich told Reuters.
The exact contents were a closely guarded secret, but again the
scale and sophistication would impress, he said.
"For sure it will be the biggest Winter Olympics closing ceremony
(Reporting by the Reuters Olympics team in Sochi and Rosa Khutor;
editing by Peter Rutherford)
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