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Mistake-free ceremony closes Sochi Games

Sochi, Russia ( - The closing ceremony of the Sochi Games brought a flashy and tuneful end Sunday night to the most expensive Olympics in history.

Most important, perhaps, it went off without a hitch.

Organizers poked a little fun at the now-infamous opening ceremony gaffe that saw only four out of five snowflakes open up into rings, leaving the Olympics logo one ring short.

They opted for human rings this time, the last one opening several seconds after the first four on the floor of the stadium. It echoed the hijinks from Vancouver's closing ceremony four years ago, when a leg of the cauldron that failed to come up during the opening ceremony was finally raised into place.

Sunday's ceremony at Fisht Olympic Stadium included a handoff from Sochi to Pyeongchang, South Korea, host of the 2018 Winter Games.

Near the end, the cauldron that was lit 16 days earlier by Russian Olympic greats Vladislav Tretiak and Irina Rodnina was extinguished after one of the games' mascots, an animatronic bear, blew out a flame in the center of the stadium, a single tear dripping from its left eye.

Earlier, after a children's choir conducted by Valery Gergiev sung the Russian national anthem, flag bearers for each country entered the stadium together rather than country by country like in the opening ceremony.

The athletes who stuck around for the festivities also came in together, as is customary for the closing ceremony.

American ice hockey forward Julie Chu, who competed in her fourth Olympics, carried the U.S. flag.

"So proud to represent Team USA (and) our amazing athletes. Humbled," Chu tweeted as she waited to enter the stadium.

Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse, who won their second women's bobsled gold medal in a row, were co-flag bearers for Canada. Figure skater Maxim Trankov, a dual gold medalist in Sochi, carried Russia's flag.

Pop music played, but the ceremony also included a heavy dose of classical music and ballet like the opening ceremony, and a nod to Russian novelists and poets.

All of it was done as temperatures hovered in the 40s, a cool close to the so- called Spring Olympics, where the weather was famously mild, with temperatures even climbing into the 60s on some days.

That led to some strange scenes, including cross country skiers cutting the sleeves off their uniforms and American skier Julia Mancuso filming a surfing video for NBC on the Black Sea.

There was a serious side to the warmer weather, of course, which wreaked havoc on some courses for the snow events.

Snowboarders complained about slushy conditions on the halfpipe and the New York Times detailed a clandestine operation by organizers to purchase more salt needed to keep some courses properly iced.

Norwegian biathlete Ole Einar Bjoerndalen set the all-time Winter Olympics record during the games by winning his 12th and 13th medals, both golds.

But Russia led the overall medal count with 33, including 13 gold medals to fall one short of the Winter Games record of 14 set by Canada four years ago at the Vancouver Olympics.

The U.S. finished second with 28 medals, nine fewer than the Winter Games record 37 they captured in Vancouver. Norway was third overall with 26 medals and Canada won 25, including 10 gold -- the last secured by the men's hockey team on Sunday in a win over Sweden.

The Russian anthem played for the last time at the closing ceremony during the medal ceremony for the men's 50-kilometer cross country race. Alexander Legkov led a Russian medal sweep of that event Sunday morning.

Sochi organizing committee head Dmitry Chernyshenko called the games "a great moment in our history ... a moment that will never be forgotten."

"This is the new face of Russia, our Russia," he said. "And for us, these games are the best ever."

Russian President Vladimir Putin's $51 billion Olympics were the subject of snickers early on when media and athletes arrived to find some accommodations lacking.

Journalists relayed stories of unfinished rooms, broken door handles, missing shower curtains and even stray dogs in their media villages.

One was told not to use the water in her bathroom, which was said to contain a dangerous chemical. U.S. bobsledder Johnny Quinn became an Internet sensation after tweeting a picture of his bathroom door, which he had broken through after becoming locked inside.

The Twitter account SochiProblems had more than 330,000 followers by the time of Sunday's closing ceremony, but the criticism so prevalent in the first days died down, giving way to wide praise of Sochi's venues.

IOC President Thomas Bach, presiding over his first games, said the athletes left a legacy of "peace, tolerance and respect" and urged, as IOC heads often do, that countries around the world follow the example.

Bach thanked Putin for what he said was the Russian president's "personal commitment to the extraordinary success" of the games.

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

News broke during the opening ceremony that a plane had been diverted to an airport in Turkey after a passenger on board allegedly issued a bomb threat and tried to have the aircraft redirected to Sochi.

The incident further raised fears that Russia's first Olympics in 34 years could be the target of a terrorist attack, but the games passed without any such incident.

The host country faced criticism in the run-up to the games after passing laws last year aimed at keeping gay "propaganda" away from children, and officials remained adamant throughout that political protests should be kept away from Olympic venues.

In the highest-profile incident of its kind, two members of the punk band Pussy Riot were among several people detained for several hours as they planned to film a protest video in Sochi. They set up a day later to film again, but were interrupted by Cossacks who attacked them with whips.

The games went without a positive doping test until the final weekend, when there were six.

In the last case, Swedish hockey star Nicklas Backstrom was scratched from the gold medal game Sunday after testing positive for a banned substance found in allergy medication his NHL team said he has been taking for seven years to combat severe allergies. The Washington Capitals said the medication was approved by the Swedish national team.

02/23 13:38:13 ET