The polar bear mascot prepares to extinguish the flame. (ATR)
The Sochi polar bear mascot blew out the Olympic flame as the first Winter Olympics in Russia came to a triumphant end.
The Closing Ceremony, titled “Reflections of Russia,” unfurled the best of the host country’s art, ballet, literature, and circus acts while also emphasizing the role of the next generation.
Valery Gergiev conducted a choir of 1,000 children singing the Russian national anthem while another 2,000 children carrying yellow flowers formed a meadow of mimosa to herald the end of winter and the arrival of spring.
Bach addresses the crowd as Chernyshenko stands by. (Getty Images)
However, the 15 children supposed to carry the Russian flag across Fisht Stadium -- according to the media guide -- were replaced by the gold medalists who helped Russia win the medal count. That victory had been an unexpected bonus to go along with a successful staging of the Games.
“This is the new face of Russia, our Russia,” said Sochi chief Dmitry Chernyshenko, adding with a big smile, “and for us, these Games are the best ever.”
One portion of the program paid tribute to Russia's literary history. (Getty Images)
While longtime IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch often made similar declarations at the Games, new president Thomas Bach, like predecessor Jacques Rogge, stayed away from that kind of statement.
Bach proclaimed, “These were the Athletes’ Games!”
“We all have enjoyed exceptional conditions in these Olympic Winter Games,” Bach said. “Our Russian hosts had promised excellent sports venues, outstanding Olympic Villages, and an impeccable organization.
“Tonight we can say: Russia delivered all what it had promised.”
Russia enters the Closing Ceremony victorious after topping the medal table. (Getty Images)
The Closing Ceremony was Sochi's final chance to deliver its message of renewal.
While the ceremony was mostly a reverent look at the nation’s culture, there was also some humor.
Early in the program, 700 shimmering performers made intricate patterns on the floor of the stadium. To the delight of the crowd of 40,000, they then composed four spinning Olympic rings and one little cluster that refused to move. That was a nod to the embarrassing glitch in the Opening Ceremony. This time, the cluster blossomed from a sunflower into the final Olympic ring, and the crowd cheered as fireworks went off inside the stadium..
Marco Balich, a member of the creative team who will be in charge of both Paralympic ceremonies in Sochi, tells Around the Rings
that, between the Opening and Closing Ceremony, “they really did explore the entire spectrum of Russian culture. They went in many directions -- as modern and visionary and muscular was the Opening, as intimate and emotional and poetic was the Closing.”
The ceremony ackowledged the next Winter Games host, PyeongChang. (Getty Images)
He said Sunday’s performances revealed the “deep soul of Russia with this flavor of nostalgia.”
That nostalgia included an upside down village inspired by the painter Marc Chagall, which was accompanied by Schnittke’s “Polka” played by Yuri Bashmet and Tatiana Samouil. Writers such as Chekhov, Dostoyevsky, Pushkin, and Tolstoy were seen working at their desks, then their papers swirled into a vortex. On the screen, a little boy was shown closing the book on Sochi 2014.
The show also fondly remembered Misha, the beloved mascot of the Moscow Olympics who famously shed a tear when the 1980 Games ended.
Athletes dance and party after the ceremony. (Getty Images)
With a puff of air from the giant mechanical Sochi bear – who doesn’t have a name and looks different from the plush toys – a small cauldron inside the stadium and the large one outside were both extinguished. Misha could be seen on a screen floating away and the Sochi bear also shed a tear.
“That is a moment, maybe for us foreigners, that is not so important,” said Balich, who is Italian, “but I will guarantee, for the Russian population, it will be a huge emotional impact as they reconnect to the 1980 Olympic Games.”
The ceremony was the first chance for most television viewers to connect with PyeongChang, the 2018 host city.
Russian President Vladimir Putin receives congratulations after a successful Games. (Getty Images)
Its performance was typically Korean, with a performer playing a Gayageum, a traditional musical instrument, and dancers dressed as cranes. The song “Arirang,” the unofficial national anthem, was a beautiful accompaniment.
The star of the athletes’ procession was an unknown British athlete who did several handsprings that would have fit in during the circus segment.
After a spectacular fireworks show that no one inside the stadium could see, a disc jockey invited athletes and cast members to dance on the stage. People streamed out of the stands and onto the stage until volunteers and security personnel started blocking their way with a firm “No!”
For some, the party was over.
Written by Karen Rosen
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