SOCHI: Sochi’s $50 billion Olympics close on 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.
With just ice hockey and bobsleigh finals to come, Russia is now certain, with 12 golds and a total of 32 medals, to top the medals table ahead of Norway.
Russia were also looking good for the four-man bob after Alexander Zubkov maintained his slender overnight lead over Latvia with just the fourth and final run to come.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach added to Russia’s feelgood 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 organisers 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, organisers 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 a pre-competition doping control in Obertilliach, Austria, on February 16.
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 scepticism 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.
Before the Olympic flag is passed to 2018 hosts Pyeongchang, defending champions Canada will tackle Sweden in the ice hockey final with both sides boasting 5-0 winning records in the tournament.
The Sidney Crosby-led Canadians have a star-filled squad while Sweden boast the best goaltender in the tournament, Henrik Lundqvist.
“It could be another 1-0 game,” said Canada forward Matt Duchene. “It wouldn’t surprise me with the way Sweden plays.”
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, has just two assists in five games.
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 defenceman 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 defence. Canada’s leading goal scorer in the tournament is defenceman Drew Doughty, with four goals.