Russia leaves the world with a view of its history and its hope in Sochi Winter Olympics

Published: Monday, Feb. 24 2014 3:15 a.m. MST

A military band performs during the closing ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Sochi, Russia.

Darron Cummings, Associated Press

SOCHI, Russia — With a homage to Russian classics like Rachmaninoff, Bolshoi Ballet and Dostoyevsky, Sochi’s closing ceremony ended with the hope that the world better understands — and embraces — Russia.

“It is the great moment in our history, a moment to cherish and pass on to future generations,” said Dmitry Chernyshenko, president and CEO of the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee. “This is the new face of Russia. Our Russia.”

From individual volunteers to Russian government officials, the sentiment was expressed more than once that part of the purpose in hosting these games was the desire to show the world who they really are as a people.

“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,” said Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak the day before the closing ceremony.

He said extinguishing the flame would be a sad moment for the entire country.

“But I am sure that all of us will preserve the memory of it in our hearts; the friendly faces, the warm Sochi sun and the glare of the Olympic gold have broken the ice of skepticism towards the new Russia. 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.”

That was certainly the sentiment expressed throughout the games from the exuberant volunteers to the officials who continually tried to avoid discussing issues from human rights to stray dogs. They sang the praises of the athletes, and for Russia —a country that doesn’t embrace sports fandom the way Americans do — they had plenty of reasons to celebrate.

On the final day of the games, the host country swept the men’s 50 kilometer cross-country race and won gold in four-man bobsled. It won the most medals (33) and the most golds (13). The U.S. finished second with 28 overall medals, but was fourth in gold medals with just nine.

Still, anyone in any official capacity did nothing but offer praise to both the host city and the participants of the games.

“You volunteers, with your warm smiles, made the sun shine for us every day,” said IOC President Thomas Bach. “Your wonderful engagement will create the legacy of a strong civil society in Russia. Through you everybody with an open mind could see the face of the new Russia — efficient and friendly, patriotic and open to the world.”

The games were meant to change hearts and minds about who Russians are, and to some degree that occurred. But there was a distinct lack of international representation among fans, with many athletes saying their families either couldn’t afford to make the trip or were afraid of threats from terrorists.

As it turned out, security was inconspicuous but effective. Transportation, by all accounts, went smoothly with no major problems reported.

The games started under a cloud of ridicule when journalists arrived to find some accommodations either lacking or still under construction. Organizers said those reports were exaggerated, and eventually the problems were either remedied or accepted and the conversation shifted to the competition.

Throughout the games there were issues of how protesters were dealt with — some denouncing environmental disregard in building the infrastructure for the Olympic venues, while others protested Russia’s new anti-gay propaganda law and lack of human rights for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

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