Sochi Olympic Flame Is Extinguished

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The last big games of the Olympics, including the gold medal hockey game and four-man bobsled, concluded Sunday. After the closing ceremony, thousands headed for Sochi's tiny airport. NPR's Robert Smith provides a roundup of highlights.

ARUN RATH, HOST:

And meantime, in Sochi, Russia, the Olympic flame is extinguished, and the medals all packed up. The Olympics are finally over, and thousands of athletes and journalists are heading for the tiny airport, including NPR's Robert Smith, who joins us from Sochi.

ROBERT SMITH, BYLINE: Hey. My bags are packed.

RATH: So, you know, there was a lot of handwringing and controversy heading into this Olympics. But when it came down to the games, at least watching it on NBC, it seemed like it came off pretty successfully. It looked nice. Was that how things were on the ground?

SMITH: Yeah. It felt flawless, I have to say. I mean, there were the usual problems with doing an event of this size, and transportation was really difficult. I mean, we're talking about tiny mountain roads and many gondolas to get up to the cross-country center and the alpine events, but that's normal. Other than a few of those mistakes in the opening ceremonies that everyone made fun of, this has been a pretty perfect Olympics.

RATH: Now, the legacy of Olympic villages or Olympic cities, it's been mixed, you know, how they've done after the Olympics. I know it's early to say as people are packing up, but do you have a sense of how that $51 billion that was spent on these games is going to pay off?

SMITH: Well, I mean, economists are pretty clear, it will never pay off. They will never get $51 billion worth of benefit from that. Now, that being said, it is pretty lovely up in the mountains. They built a lot of hotels, a lot of gondolas and infrastructure and ski resorts. And so, you know, they will get tourists there. It's a lovely place, and I think people will go back to that.

RATH: What would you say was the bigger disappointment, U.S. men's hockey or U.S. men's speed skating?

SMITH: You know, I have to say, I watched both of them. And the U.S. men's hockey was a huge disappointment only because the speed skaters struggled from the very moment they got here. When it came to the men's hockey, they looked fantastic. They were the best team in this tournament. They were scoring all the goals. They were aggressive. And then they stopped, and Canada came and shut them out. And then in the bronze medal match, it was like they didn't even show up.

And to be fair to them, it is harsh to have to lose to your rivals in Canada and then get up the next morning and play another game. I mean, you know, if you lose to the Dutch, you can say like, well, I don't know much about them. They look pretty awesome. When you lose to the Canadians, that's a stab in the heart. Come on.

RATH: Robert, what was your favorite moment that has been overlooked by others?

SMITH: Here's one. There's a guy who is a biathlete here, Ole Einar Bjoerndalen. And he won his 13th gold medal, which is a record here. And so people paid attention to that. And - but, you know, I saw him on one of the nights where he was trying to get number 13 and he did not, and he got fourth place. He just narrowly missed it. And I talked to him afterwards.

And, you know, a lot of athletes around here have been blaming the course. They say, oh, the snow is too soft, the halfpipe is too steep, but he did not. I mean, he just missed history by this much on that night. And he just said, you know, it was a funny course. You know, it was interesting. So that was a sort of glory-in-defeat moment that I walked away with and said, you know, the guy's a class act.

RATH: So what are your takeaways from the Sochi Olympics?

SMITH: It's going to be interesting to see what happens from here on out with bids for the Olympics because, I mean, Russia showed there is one way to do this, which is to basically do it by force, you know? Use so much money, clear so much land, literally drill roads through mountainsides to do that. And there's a lot of countries out there who are - maybe have the money to do it but are also democracies in such a way that a $50 billion price tag just looks insane.

And people have looked at the games here and said, I don't know if we want to do that. And the bar's high now for the kind of things you have to build. So it'll be interesting to see what happens here on out if a lot of countries end up saying, you know, it is not worth it to do the Olympics.

RATH: NPR's Robert Smith, who's on his way out of Sochi. Thanks, Robert.

SMITH: You're welcome.

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