Russia ends Winter Olympics as surprise medals leader

Agence France-Presse

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Sochi's $50 billion Olympics close Sunday with Russia hailing a Games closely wrapped up in the image of President Vladimir Putin and the country seizing first place in the medals table.

MONOPOLY. Russians Maxim Vylegzhanin (silver), Alexander Legkov (gold) and Ilia Chernousov (bronze) celebrate during the flower ceremony for the Men's 50km Mass Start Free Cross Country Skiing event. Photo by Valdrin Xhemaj/EPA

SOCHI, Russia – Sochi’s $50 billion Olympics close Sunday with Russia hailing a Games closely wrapped up in the image of President Vladimir Putin and the country seizing first place in the medals table.

Russia guaranteed top spot after a clean sweep of the men’s 50km cross country race thanks to Alexander Legkov, Maxim Vylegzhanin and Ilia Chernousov.

The hosts then hammered home their supremacy when Alexander Zubkov claimed his second gold in Sochi by leading the four-man bobsleigh team to victory.

With just the ice hockey final to be decided, Russia has 13 golds and a total of 33 medals, topping the table ahead of Norway.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach added to Russia’s feel-good factor by describing the 2014 Games as “great”, saying the response from the athletes was “overwhelmingly positive”.

“These were excellent Games that may lead to the reversal of some criticism” of the Russian organizers that preceded the Olympics, Bach added at a news conference.

But in a reality check ahead of the closing ceremony, which is due to start at 1600 GMT, Games officials revealed that a fifth competitor had failed a drugs test.

Austrian cross-country skier Johannes Duerr, who had been due to take part in the men’s 50km on Sunday, tested positive for blood booster EPO in a pre-competition test in Austria on February 16, organizers said.

Duerr is the fifth athlete to be excluded over a positive doping test from the Sochi Games, where the IOC is carrying out more tests than ever, with a new emphasis on pre-competition tests.

The Austrian took part on February 9 in the first cross country event of Sochi 2014, the skiathlon, finishing eighth. But he tested positive for EPO a week later in Obertilliach, Austria.

Ukrainian cross country skier Marina Lisogor, Latvian men’s ice hockey player Vitalijs Pavlovs, German biathlete Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle and Italian bobsledder William Frullani all failed tests at the Games.

Despite the late flurry of doping shocks, Russian officials are keen to bask in a 16-day showpiece that passed off relatively unscathed.

“The ice of the skepticism towards the new Russia has been broken,” said Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak.

“The Games have made the country, the culture, and the people a little closer and more understandable for the world.”

Games of a ‘very high level’  

The IOC’s executive director for the Olympic Games, Gilbert Felli, said that the Sochi Olympics have been “of a very high level”.

“What the bid committed in 2007 has been delivered,” he added.

Ahead of the handing over of the Olympic flag to 2018 hosts Pyeongchang, Canada were leading 1-0 against Sweden after the first period of the ice hockey final.

The Sidney Crosby-led Canadians have a star-filled squad while Sweden boast the best goaltender in the tournament, Henrik Lundqvist.

Canada are bidding to become the first team to retain the Olympic gold medal since the Soviet Union in 1988.

Crosby, who scored the winning goal in overtime to lift Canada to a 3-2 victory over the USA in the gold medal match at the 2010 Vancouver Games, had just two assists in five games going into the final.

Crosby said he is not thinking about individual statistics.

Asked if he was thinking about the possibility of scoring another golden goal, Crosby said: “I don’t think that goes through your mind. It is another opportunity for us.

“We all worked a long and hard time to get to play in the gold medal game. Ultimately we need to be our best when it means the most here in the final.”

Sweden’s best player so far has been defenseman Erik Karlsson, who is the tournament co-leader in points with four goals and eight points in five games.

Both Sweden and Canada have been getting big offensive performances from their defense. Canada’s leading goal scorer in the tournament is defenseman Drew Doughty, with four goals. –

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