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Costly, political, successful: Sochi Olympics end

SOCHI, Russia — Flushed with pride after its athletes' spectacular showing at the costliest Olympics ever, Russia celebrated Sunday night with a visually stunning finale that handed off a smooth but politically charged Winter Games to their next host, Pyeongchang in South Korea.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, these Olympics' political architect and booster-in-chief, watched and smiled as Sochi gave itself a giant pat on the back for a Winter Games that IOC President Thomas Bach declared an "extraordinary success."

The crowd that partied in Fisht Olympic Stadium, in high spirits after the high-security games passed safely without feared terror attacks, hooted with delight when Bach said Russia delivered on promises of "excellent" venues, "outstanding" accommodation for the 2,856 athletes and "impeccable organization." The spectators let out an audibly sad moan when Bach declared the 17-day Winter Games closed.

"We leave as friends of the Russian people," Bach said.

The nation's US$51 billion investment — topping even Beijing's estimated US$40 billion layout for the 2008 Summer Games — transformed a decaying resort town on the Black Sea into a household name. All-new facilities, unthinkable in the Soviet era of drab shoddiness, showcased how far Russia has come in the two decades since it turned its back on communism. But the Olympic show didn't win over critics of Russia's backsliding on democracy and human rights under Putin and its institutionalized intolerance of gays.

Despite the bumps along the way, Bach was unrelentingly upbeat about his first games as IOC president and the nation that hosted it. One of Sochi's big successes was security. Feared attacks by Islamic militants who threatened to target the games didn't materialize.

"It's amazing what has happened here," Bach said a few hours before the ceremony. He recalled that Sochi was an "old, Stalinist-style sanatorium city" when he visited for the IOC in the 1990s.

Dmitry Chernyshenko, head of the Sochi organizing committee, called the games "a moment to cherish and pass on to the next generations."

"This," he said, "is the new face of Russia — our Russia."

His nation celebrated its rich gifts to the worlds of music and literature in the ceremony, which started at 20:14 local time — a nod to the year that Putin seized upon to remake Russia's image with the Olympics' power to wow and concentrate global attention and massive resources.

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A man watches fireworks from a balcony during the closing ceremonies at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 23, in Sochi, Russia.

(AP)

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