On the evening of 23 February the eyes of the world turned their gaze once more to the Fisht Olympic Stadium, for the start of the Closing Ceremony of the XXII Olympic Winter Games. Seventeen days earlier the stadium had provided the setting for a wonderful curtain-raiser to Sochi 2014, and the two and a half hour finale proved every bit as special.
To set the mood, a giant rowing boat, representing the Olympic journey, hovered above the stadium in the night sky, as thousands of silver-clad dancers whirled around the stadium.
The performers then moved into formation, to create not five, but four Olympic rings – as the organisers produced a moment of self-deprecating humour in alluding to the momentary technical glitch that had seen one of the rings fail to open during the Opening Ceremony. It was a poignant moment, and one which hinted at the “new face of Russia” able to laugh at itself in the knowledge that it had done its job superbly well.
1,000 children from the Pan-Russia Choir then delivered a stirring rendition of the Russian national anthem, as the 88 delegations from 88 National Olympic Committees made their way once more into the stadium.
Athletes take centre stage
The host delegation entrusted their flag to figure skating gold medallist Maxim Trankov, while among the other flagbearers were athletes who had provided Sochi 2014 with some of its most memorable moments: Lizzy Yarnold for Great Britain, who had won gold in the women’s skeleton; Martin Fourcade for France, who leaves Sochi with two biathlon golds; Zbignew Brodka of Poland, who had interrupted the Dutch dominance at the Adler Arena to claim a speed skating gold, and Norwegian biathlete Ole Einar Bjorndalen, who like Fourcade leaves Sochi with a pair of golds… and also the all-time record for the most medals won by a Winter Olympian.
Staying on the subject of Norway, and of Winter Olympic legends, there was still some unfinished business to attend to, as the medallists from the women’s mass start event in the cross-country, stepped up to receive their medals. The Norwegian trio led by Marit Borgen – now the most decorated female Winter Olympian in history with six golds and 10 medals overall – who with Therese Johaug and Kristin Størmer Steira had ensured a clean sweep in the women’s 30km the day before.
There then followed a vibrant celebration of Russian culture, embracing art, music, literature and ballet. Among the highlights, renowned pianist Denis Matsuev delivered a virtuoso performance, and dancers from the Bolshoi and Mariinsky ballet companies lit up the stage to the strains of Shostakovich’s Waltz Number 2. As the dancers exited stage left, it was a case of ‘bring on the clowns’. Russia is famed for its circus performers, and they showed just why with a breath-taking display of acrobatics, trapeze artistry and clowning.
At 21h40 local time, the festivities were then paused to make way for what is a crucial part of any Closing Ceremony: the handover of the Olympic flag. Flying proudly alongside the national flags of Russia and Greece, the flag depicting the five Olympic rings was lowered to the sound of the Olympic anthem. The Olympic flag was then subsequently presented to Soek-Rae Lee, the Mayor of PyeongChang, host city of the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, by his Sochi counterpart Anatoly Pakhmanov.
With the focus staying on PyeongChang, the audience was treated to a performance of traditional Korean music and dance, as part of a presentation on the theme ‘A Journey Together’, with members of the Korean athletes’ delegation joining.
Dmitry Chernyshenko, the president of the Sochi 2014 Organising Committee, underlined that the Games had enabled Russia to show the world what it was capable of: “This,” he said, “is a new face of Russia – our Russia.”
“The athletes’ Games”
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said during his closing address: “Thank you very much dear Olympic Athletes! You have inspired us for the last magnificent 17 days. You have excelled in your competitions.
You have shared your emotions with us and the whole world. You have celebrated victory with dignity and accepted defeat with dignity.”
President Bach went on to stress how the Games had helped to reinforce the core Olympic values of respect and tolerance.
“By living together under one roof in the Olympic Village you send a powerful message from Sochi to the world: 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.”
Russia, he added, could be proud of itself for laying on a Winter Games to be proud of: “Tonight we can say: Russia delivered all what it had promised. What took decades in other parts of the world was achieved here in Sochi in just seven years.”
President Bach went on to pay tribute to the huge contribution made by the thousands of volunteers who had helped to make Sochi 2014 such a successful and memorable occasion, and not least to help ensure that the athletes were able to take centre stage to enjoy 17 days of thrilling high-level competition.
“Thank you very much volunteers! You, volunteers, with your warm smile made the sun shine for us every day. Your wonderful engagement will create the legacy of a strong civil society in Russia."
"There is no higher compliment than to say on behalf of all participants and on behalf of all of my fellow Olympic Athletes: These were the Athletes’ Games! »
Before the Ceremony officially drew to a close there was still time for one more emotional, and humorous, moment, as a 50-foot bear, one of the Sochi 2014 mascots, took to the stage, winking to crowd before blowing out the Olympic flame with a nod to one of the iconic moments of the Closing Ceremony at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow.
Then, at 22h09 local time, in time honoured fashion, President Bach formally declared the Sochi 2014 Games closed, and paved the way for the Korean hosts of the next edition of the Winter Games to take up the baton.
“I declare the 22nd Olympic Winter Games closed. In accordance with tradition, I call upon the youth of the world to assemble four years from now in PyeongChang to celebrate with us the 23rd Olympic Winter Games," he said.
As fireworks once again lit up the Sochi night sky, the volunteers and athletes flocked into the middle of the stadium, which was transformed into a giant dance floor, to enjoy a much deserved party.