Russia leaves the world with a view of its history and its hope in Sochi Winter Olympics
But maybe most problematic for Russian and Olympic officials was the furor over Sochi’s stray dogs. At first there was concern because the dogs wandered freely, sometimes even in and out of buildings. But that quickly shifted to concern for the welfare of the animals as there were reports that dogs were being rounded up and euthanized.
Two snowboarders and at least two U.S. hockey players ended up adopting stray dogs, some of whom were struggling with disease. The issue became a sore point with officials, and when one reporter tried to ask a lighthearted question about the number of Russian dogs being taken by athletes to Utah, Patrick Sandusky, chief communications officer for the USOC, was visibly irritated.
He said those who were concerned should “visit their local Humane Society in the U.S. where there are lots of dogs to adopt.”
Sandusky also basically refused to answer another softball question about whether he’d return to Sochi for vacation, saying curtly that they were going to return for the Paralympic Games.
While most athletes expressed nothing but delight with their experience in Sochi, there were problems. It seems to be a regular issue at the Olympics, but the Korean team filed a formal complaint with the International Skating Union over judging issues.
Meanwhile, a lack of podium finishes for U.S. speedskating devolved into finger-pointing and constantly changing theories as to how one of the world’s best teams failed to even get near a podium until the short-track men’s team won silver in the 5,000-meter relay.
But the U.S. enjoyed its most successful Winter Olympics outside North America, and young, new stars took center stage, which officials believe builds excitement for the games among younger generations.
The final issue was Sweden’s protest of the IOC’s decision to ban Nicklas Backstrom from the gold medal hockey game against Canada for testing positive for Pseudoephedrine, which he took in the form of allergy medication.
“Our opinion is that the IOC has destroyed one of the greatest hockey days in Swedish history,” said Tommy Boustedt, general manager of the team. He said the damage extended far beyond the games and into his country. “They destroyed this hockey day for all Swedish fans and for lots of fans all over the world.”
But for the most part, IOC and Russian officials were correct when they praised athletes and fans for friendly behavior, fair competition and thrilling performances. Maybe the biggest hit of the games were the newly added sports, most of which the U.S — and Utah athletes specifically — dominated.
Fans loved them, and that venue was one of the most packed throughout the games.
“Ninety-eight sets of medals were won in honest and dazzling competition,” Chernyshenko said. “Your victories inspired people all over the world.”
The closing ceremony featured the best of Russia’s rich music history, with one of the most impressive sections featuring pianist Denis Matsuev playing Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concert No. 2. Within minutes, 62 other pianos swirled around him. The journey also featured two of Russia’s renowned ballet companies — Bolshoi and Mariinsky, and then paid tribute to the country’s best writers, some of which were Brodsky, Bulgakov, Chekov, Pushkin, Solzhenitsyn and Tolstoy.
It was an entertaining, quick-paced journey that also included a beautiful hand-off to PyeongChang, Korea, host of the 2018 Winter Games. Then came the speeches and the send-off starting with Chernyshenko and ending with Bach.
“We arrived with great respect for the rich and varied history of Russia,” Bach said. “We leave as friends of the Russian people.”
The mascots joined 3,000 children holding Mimosa branches, and then Tchaikovsky played while a massive 15-minute fireworks show began. Classical music gave way to DJ Kto, who played mixes of modern music while fans filed out of the stadium to an illuminated sky and an extinguished flame.
“Thanks to the games, it was for the first time since the collapse of the former Soviet Union, Russian athletes have a training base for all winter disciplines and sports and the Olympic venues here in Sochi,” said Kozak of the most expensive Winter Games in history. “Today, Russia celebrates its athletes at our home-grown Olympic Games.”
And Bach hopes that even those far from the fields of play found reason to be inspired by what happened in the city by the Black Sea.
“By living together under one roof in the Olympic Village you send a powerful message from Sochi to the world,” he said. “The message of a society of peace, tolerance and respect. I appeal to everybody implicated in confrontation, oppression or violence, act on this Olympic message of dialogue and peace. There is no higher compliment than to say on behalf of all of participants these were the athletes’ games.”
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