By Gary SheftickFebruary 24, 2014
SOCHI, Russia (Army News Service, Feb. 24, 2014) -- From famous novelists to the Bolshoi Ballet, athletes attending the Closing Ceremony of the Olympic Winter Games Feb. 23 were immersed in Russia's cultural heritage of music, art and literature.
They also glimpsed a preview of the magic to come in Korea as the Olympic flag was passed to PyeongChang for 2018.
Among U.S. athletes who marched into Fisht Olympic Stadium was Capt. Chris Fogt of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program. He proudly wore the bronze medal he earned just hours earlier in the four-man bobsled competition at Sanki Sliding Center.
"It felt great" winning a medal after four years, said Fogt, whose bobsled crashed at the Vancouver games in 2010, and his team was unable to finish due to injuries. Since then he's been to Iraq and back and said he couldn't wait to get to the Closing Ceremony to show his fellow Soldiers around the world the medal he earned for them.
Sgt. Nick Cunningham fell short of a medal, but said he was no less proud to be representing his country at the ceremony and was elated to see a tweet earlier that day from Dr. Jill Biden, the vice president's wife, wishing him luck along with his bobsled teammates Sgt. Dallas Robinson and Sgt. Justin Olsen.
After the athletes took their seats in the stadium, they were introduced to the art of Marc Chagall (1887-1985) as a village floated upside down across the arena's ceiling, mirrored by a village below filled with acrobats, clowns, brides and fiddlers. Famous Russian viola player Yuri Bashmet popped up in the center of the scene with violinist Tatiana Sampouil.
Then 62 pianos whirled around the stage and white-haired musicians joined Denis Matsuev in playing Piano Concert No. 2, composed by Sergei Rachmaninoff in 1901.
An Army of ballet dancers leaped onto stage center with soloists from the Bolshoi and Marinsky ballet companies playing the roles of Anna Pavlova, her teacher Cechetti and founder of the Ballets Russes, Sergei Diaghilev, who introduced the world to Russian ballet in a Paris premier in 1909.
Russian writers were next honored as children explored a giant library on stage. Suddently huge rotating fans blew the pages of literature into a swirling vortex as the pages of Joseph Brodsky, Anton Chekhov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Nikolai Gogol, Alexander Pushkin, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Leo Tolstoy and others took to the air in a cyclone.
"The Magic of Circus" featured more than 400 performers in six rings including unicyclists, jugglers, clowns and acrobat s performing on aerial hoops. It displayed Russia's tradition of circus dating back to the days of Catherine the Great.
Finally the Greek flag was raised and the mayor of Sochi passed the Olympic flag to the president of the International Olympic Committee, who passed it to the mayor of PyeongChang. A dreamscape preview of the 2018 games venue began with playing a traditional Korean 12-string Gayageum. It climaxed with dancers spreading white glowing wings in a swan dance.
IOC President Thomas Bach said Russia had delivered all that it promised for the 2014 games, and opined that the Olympic spirit displayed was the beginning of a new friendly era of openness for the nation.
The Olympic flame was extinguished in a scene involving the giant Sochi 2014 bear, hare and leopard mascots as 1,000 children of the Pan-Russian Choir each carried a small flame in their hands.
A shower of yellow petals fell across the stadium as 2,000 more children gathered on the arena floor with yellow Mimosa flowers, signaling the beginning of a new season. Fireworks began erupting outside as many of the 20,000 young Olympic volunteers gathered on the arena floor and danced to the techno beat of DJ Kto. Meanwhile, the stadium began emptying as spectators rushed outside to view the fireworks display.