Sochi, Russia played host to an excellent 2014 Winter Olympics, and Sunday's closing ceremony wrapped up the exceptional and exciting athletic showcase. With a beautiful, dazzling display that rivaled and in some ways topped the ceremony that commenced the Winter Games, Russia continued to thrive as the host nation.
But of course, the Olympics are about the extraordinary individuals that partake in the competitions, and in that regard, the Russians excelled better than any country across the board. Russia finished with the most gold and overall medals. The United States finishing second in the total medal count, followed by Norway:
So it was a successful triumph for Russia in terms of prowess in competition and proving they are capable of facilitating a major sporting event. It might not get any bigger than hosting an Olympics, and amid controversy and skepticism, organizers made it work.
That all culminated in a grand coronation at the closing ceremony, so it's worth delving into what transpired during the awe-inspiring Sunday scene at Fisht Olympic Stadium.
One of the most striking visuals was an effect that the Olympics' official Twitter account referred to as a sparkling ocean:
A substantial portion of the ceremony paid homage to Russia's heritage, with several historical figures in particular serving as the prominent focus:
With some of the issues that surrounded these Winter Games and the polarizing decision to make Sochi the venue, the tribute served as a fitting contrast. It juxtaposed some of the prior negativity and accentuated some of the country's proud elements.
U.S. women's hockey player Julie Chu was unfortunately part of a team that fell short in the end yet again, settling for silver in a heartbreaking defeat to perennial champion Canada. However, she had the honor of carrying the USA flag in the closing ceremony, and felt grateful for the opportunity:
What an incredible experience getting to carry our nation's flag into the stadium. Such an honor! Wish my teammates were by my side #TeamUSA— Julie Chu (@juliechu13) February 23, 2014
That is such a big honor, and several other Americans who won gold were passed over in favor of Chu. Rachel Blount of the Minneapolis Star Tribune captured the scene of many of the record 88 countries that were represented:
Here come the athletes! US flag carried by 4-time Olympic hockey player Julie Chu. pic.twitter.com/uZuwVvP9Uq— Rachel Blount (@BlountStrib) February 23, 2014
Children played a big role in the epic performance, singing the Russian national anthem at one point in time. It was another great display of national pride, but it did come with a bit of awkward tension, per ABC's Matt Gutman:
double #olympic gold medalist Vic Wild, an American snowboarding for Russia stood stone faced during Russian Nat anthem; awkward— Matt Gutman (@mattgutmanABC) February 23, 2014
When an athlete is torn between countries and can only pick one to represent, it always creates an interesting dynamic. The same goes for athletes such as U.S. hockey player Phil Kessel, a Toronto Maple Leafs star used to competing on foreign soil and representing a different nation at the Olympics.
With that said, it helps to increase the competitiveness, parity and overall quality of many events. And there was certainly no objection to that notion at these Winter Games.
One language that is universal is music, and as NBC Olympics' official Twitter account highlighted, a wide array of Russia's vast reach was represented in its youthful ensemble choir:
The National Anthem of the Russian Federation is performed by a choir of 1000 children from 84 regions across Russia. #ClosingCeremony— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) February 24, 2014
Sticking with the musical theme—if you can pardon a relevant but loose allusion—the song "Closing Time" by Semisonic closes with the lyrics, "Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end." Music can be universally appreciated just as excellent athletes in the heat of competition can be.
The official segue from this closing ceremony is four years down the road, as the 2018 Winter Olympics will be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea. As a usual rite of passage, though, the Olympic flag was passed to mayor Lee Seok-rai:
올림픽 대회기가 이석래 평창군수에게 전달 되었습니다! The Olympic Flag handed over! pic.twitter.com/oFuBjzDfrm— PyeongChang 2018 (@2018PyeongChang) February 23, 2014
Looking ahead to those Winter Games right now is difficult because of how many years away it is. The children in Sunday's ceremony will be far older, the field of athletes will be far different and the atmosphere will be a drastic change from what was witnessed this year.
What won't change in terms of tradition is the way the closing ceremony, and even the opening festivities for that matter, celebrate the greatness of all countries. The many nations are brought together by sports and entertainment, preparing for years to show off their talents and hard work for all the world to witness.
The world was watching on Sunday, and Sochi—as it has throughout the entirety of the 2014 Winter Olympics—delivered with an emphatic, moving conclusion.