Russia finished on top of the medal table as the 22nd Winter Olympics came to a close in Sochi on Sunday after 17 days of competition.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach officially closed the Games during an extravagant 130-minute ceremony.
South Korea was given the Olympic flag as Pyeongchang hosts the 2018 Games.
Russian President Vladimir Putin celebrated a rush of medals in Sochi with a triumphant closing ceremony on the shores of the Black Sea.
After spending $50 billion to build a mountain ski resort and a cluster of shimmering sports venues from scratch, failure was not an option for the omnipresent Russian president.
At the opening ceremony a fortnight ago, all the talk was of security fears, culls of stray dogs, last-minute glitches and a giant hydraulic snowflake that failed to open.
The 22nd Winter Olympics came to a close in Sochi on Sunday after 17 days of competition
But by the closing ceremony – which featured ballet from the Bolshoi, music by Rachmaninov and tributes to Tolstoy and Kandinsky plus the usual protocol – the atmosphere was one of pure celebration swathed in the colors of the Russian flag.
IOC President Thomas Bach declared the most expensive Games in history “a real special experience”.
He also personally thanked Vladimir Putin for his contribution to the “extraordinary success of these Winter Games”.
The opening ceremony had been a pleasingly offbeat romp through Russian art and culture. With its marching bands and 1,000-strong children’s choir singing the national anthem, this was more of a traditional show of strength.
For the Russians who wildly cheered a clean sweep of the podium in the 30 mile cross country skiing and a second gold in the bobsleigh for Alexander Zubkov on the final day of competition, a surge of sporting success helped it go with a swing.
The Russian ice hockey team had limped out of the competition to Finland at the quarter-final stage, leaving Canada to triumph over Sweden in Sunday’s final.
Sochi Olympic Games officially open in Russia on Friday, with 98 medals to be won over 16 days.
Sochi, on Russia’s Black Sea coast, will welcome about 2,900 athletes in 15 disciplines as the opening ceremony begins at 20:14 local time.
The build-up has been overshadowed by security fears, human rights concerns and delays to preparations.
But, at $50 billion, the cost of these Games is more than the combined total of all other Olympic Winter Games to date.
Canada, Norway and the United States are considered the likeliest candidates to top the Sochi medal table.
Hosting an Olympics for the first time since the boycotted Moscow Games of 1980, Russian athletes are under pressure to improve on the embarrassment of 11th place at the last Winter Games in Vancouver.
Russia has devoted $950 million to elite winter sport since winning the bid to host these Games seven years ago.
Russian attention will be focused on the men’s ice hockey team, who have yet to win Olympic gold since the break-up of the Soviet Union (although a Unified Team featuring Russian players won gold in 1992), and popular figure skater Evgeni Plushenko, who has overcome injury to feature in the Games but faces a tough task to win a medal.
Norway will look to biathlon and cross-country skiing for the bulk of their medals, while Canada’s medals will come from short track speed skating, in particular Charles Hamelin, who has the potential to be one of the faces of the Games, as well as freestyle skiing and snowboard.
The US will expect big things from Alpine skiing and bobsleigh.
Sochi will welcome about 2,900 athletes in 15 disciplines as the opening ceremony begins at 20:14 local time
In the absence of injured skier Lindsey Vonn, the leading American lights are slalom specialist Mikaela Shiffrin and snowboarder Shaun White – despite his withdrawal from the slopestyle contest on Wednesday, citing concerns over the safety of the course.
Security in Sochi has been prominent as the world’s athletes and media arrive for the Games. Threats in recent months have included repeated calls to disrupt the Olympics from the Imarat Kavkaz group in the North Caucasus, suicide bombings in the nearby city of Volgograd, and a recent US warning about the potential for “toothpaste” bombs on flights.
Journalists arriving in the region have found hotel rooms and other facilities unfinished amid a last-minute rush by organizers to complete building work, although the Olympic venues themselves have largely met with praise from athletes.
Russian opposition politicians and analysts have attributed Olympic project delays to corruption, which they say accounts for much of the Sochi Games’ substantial cost – more than three times the London 2012 budget.
Liliya Shevtsova, a senior associate at a Moscow public policy research centre, believes the Games are “an embodiment of corruption, inefficiency, irrationality, extreme vanity and megalomania”.
Sochi’s organizers do not recognize the $50 billion figure (they claim it includes the costs of infrastructure which may have been built anyway) and insist their outlay has been closer to $6.5 billion.
Alexander Zhukov, president of Russia’s Olympic Committee, said the authorities had “uncovered no cases of corruption”.
Meanwhile IOC president Thomas Bach has said athletes who oppose Russia’s “anti-gay” legislation are free to express their views in interviews with the media, but must not do so on the podium or during their events.
Sochi’s Fisht Olympic Stadium should be at full 40,000 capacity for the opening ceremony, although empty seats are anticipated at venues once the action begins.
Two weeks before the Games, organizers reported they had sold 70% of available tickets. Vancouver 2010, by contrast, sold 97% of its tickets with London 2012 achieving a similar figure.
For the first time in 30 years, events at the Winter Olympics began before the opening ceremony.
Women’s ski jump, luge team relay and biathlon mixed relay are among other events appearing on the Olympic program for the first time.
The first medals of the Games will be decided on Saturday with five golds up for grabs in biathlon, cross country skiing, freestyle skiing, snowboarding and speedskating.
The US Department of Homeland Security has warned airlines with direct flights to Russia that explosives hidden in toothpaste tubes could be smuggled onto planes.
The warning comes on the eve of the Winter Olympics’ opening ceremony in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.
It said it shared relevant information with partners at home and abroad “out of an abundance of caution”.
But it was not aware of any specific danger to the US at this time.
Unnamed security officials were quoted as saying there were fears toothpaste tubes could be used to smuggle explosives which could then be used to assemble a bomb either in flight or upon arrival at the Olympics.
The US Department of Homeland Security has warned airlines with direct flights to Russia that explosives hidden in toothpaste tubes could be smuggled onto planes
The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement that although it is “not aware of a specific threat… this routine communication is an important part of our commitment to making sure we meet that priority”.
The White House National Security Council said the latest threat had not altered existing travel guidelines for Sochi.
“If we should receive information in the coming days and weeks that changes our assessment of whether people should travel to Sochi, we will make that information public,” spokeswoman Laura Magnuson told US media.
The US has also placed two warships in the Black Sea in case of a security breach during the games, scheduled for February 7-23.
Fears were raised following two suicide attacks in Volgograd in December, and numerous threats from Islamist militants in the Caucasus region.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on Tuesday criticized Russian authorities for restricting news coverage of preparations for the Sochi Olympics.
The international journalism watchdog detailed in a report how Russian and international journalists have been harassed and prevented from covering sensitive stories in Sochi such as the abuse of migrant workers and environmental issues.
The report documented how Russian state-controlled media have been ignoring critical issues while few local journalists working for independent news outlets faced a campaign of smear and harassment.
”Russian authorities have cracked down on journalists, rights defenders, and civil activists in a way not seen since the break-up of the Soviet Union,” CPJ coordinator Nina Ognianova said in a statement.
CPJ criticized Russian authorities for restricting news coverage of preparations for the Sochi Olympics
There was no immediate response from Russian authorities to the criticism leveled by CPJ.
Months before the start of the games, journalists and activists were detained and some of them put on trial. Svetlana Kravchenko of the Caucasian Knot website, a prominent local journalist who has covered environmental travesties in Sochi and the heavy-handed tactics of local officials, was tried and found guilty of beating up a security guard.
Rights groups including Human Right Watch called local authorities responsible for the campaign of harassment against journalists and activists. Local authorities insist that criminal prosecution against members of the public including journalists is a matter of law enforcement agencies and is in no way politicized.
Sochi will host the Winter Games between February 7 and 23.
Indian athletes participating at next month’s Winter Games in Sochi will compete under the Olympic flag, not their national flag.
The three Indians who qualified for the Sochi Games will compete as “independent” athletes, rather than represent their country, after India’s Olympic body failed to schedule elections before the start of the Olympics on February 7.
The Indian Olympic Association was suspended by the IOC in December 2012 for electing tainted officials, notably secretary-general Lalit Bhanot, who spent more than 10 months in jail on corruption charges related to the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.
The IOC said last month it would lift the suspension once new elections are held. The Indians have set their general assembly for February 9, two days after the opening of the Sochi Olympics.
“Following the executive board decision in December, the IOC is considering all necessary arrangements for the Indian athletes who have qualified for the Sochi Games to take part as Independent Olympic Participants under the Olympic flag,” the IOC said in a statement on Thursday.
Indian athletes participating at next month’s Winter Games in Sochi will compete under the Olympic flag
The trio includes Shiva Kesavan, a 32-year-old luger who will be appearing in his fifth Winter Games.
Shiva Kesavan told Indian media that not being able to compete under the national flag was “shameful and pathetic”.
“It is a sad and embarrassing situation that Indian sport has been put in,” he said.
“People around the world know about the failure of our systems and about corruption and bad governance in sports.”
Under pressure from the IOC, the Indian body amended its constitution last month to ban corruption-tainted officials from running for election. Had India not complied, it would have become the first country expelled from the Olympics since South Africa was kicked out more than 40 years ago.
The IOC has made provisions for athletes to compete under the Olympic flag at previous games.
Athletes from the former Netherlands Antilles and marathon runner Guor Marial of South Sudan competed as independents at the 2012 London Olympics. Athletes from East Timor marched under the Olympic flag at the 2000 Sydney Games.
Moscow’s Vnukovo and Sheremetyevo airports have banned passengers from taking any form of liquid in their hand luggage as Russia ramps up security ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
The airports will strip people of any liquid, gel, or aerosol in their carry-on baggage, The Moscow Times reported Thursday.
In a statement on its website, Sheremetyevo airport said all liquids — including essential prescription medicine and baby food – would need to be sorted in check-in luggage. Direct flights from New York to Sheremetyevo take around 10 hours and 30 minutes.
Moscow’s airports have banned passengers from taking any form of liquid in their hand luggage ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi
Vnukovo airport said it would allow medicine in carry-on luggage, but only if the passenger carried an official doctor’s statement as proof, The Moscow Times said, citing Russian-language media.
Airports in Sochi, St. Petersburg and Moscow’s Domodedovo airport said they would allow liquid containers of 100 milliliters or less.
The new rules are part of a wider security crackdown and will run until March 21. Safety concerns have been inflated ahead of Sochi Winter Games following two bombings in the city of Volgograd killing 34 people in late December.
Vladimir Putin has taken part in a ceremony in Moscow to launch the torch relay for 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
The torch will go on a 123-day journey covering some 40,000 miles before the Games start in the Black Sea resort on February 7.
The torch’s journey will include a trip into space.
The Russian president said the Games would show his country’s “respect for equality and diversity”.
The run-up to the Games has so far been marred by controversy over a new Russian law that restricts the spread of information about homosexuality, as well as allegations by rights groups that authorities have rounded up migrant workers who helped build the Games venues in Sochi.
Vladimir Putin has taken part in a ceremony in Moscow to launch the torch relay for 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi
The Olympic flame had been flown in from Greece after being lit last Sunday at the birthplace of the ancient Games.
Hoisting the flame in Moscow, Vladimir Putin declared in a ceremony shown live on television that “our shared dream is becoming reality”.
Vladimir Putin said the Games would show “respect for equality and diversity – ideals that are so intertwined with the ideals of the Olympic movement itself”.
He said the relay would show off Russia “the way that it is and the way we love it”.
“Today is a joyous and momentous day,” Vladimir Putin said.
“The Olympic flame – the symbol of the planet’s main sports event, the symbol of peace and friendship – has arrived in Russia, and in a few minutes it will be on its way around our huge country.”
On its journey the Olympic flame will:
Travel to the North Pole on an atomic-powered icebreaker
Ascend Europe’s highest peak, Mt Elbrus
Be taken to the depths of Lake Baikal in Siberia
Be taken on a spacewalk (unlit) at the International Space Station [youtube kOQibnX3_R4]