Vancouver Winter Olympics lowers curtain with joy and sorrow

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As the Vancouver Olympic Flame was extinguished by "snow" falling from the ceiling of the British Columbia Place, the 17-day winter sports gala went to a touching endingĀ in VancouverĀ on Sunday evening in downtown Vancouver.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge declared the 21st Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver closed.

"And now, in accordance with tradition, I declare the XXI Olympic Winter Games closed, and I call upon the youth of the world to assemble four years from now in Sochi to celebrate the XXII Olympic Winter Games," said the IOC chief at the closing ceremony.

Labelling the Vancouver Games as "excellent and very friendly", Rogge praised the Games has presented those glorious days to be cherished forever by the whole world.

Starting with tears wept over the shocking death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, the Games went on in a roaring style with the organizers taking prompt reaction and the International Luge Federation deciding to shorten the course.

At the last IOC press conference, Rogge urged people not just to remember the Vancouver Olympics with the tragedy.

"The Games, from the point of view of VANOC, went through teething pains," he said. "It would be unfair, however, not to judge the Games and VANOC on their own merit."

The IOC chief, who failed to fall asleep for two nights after Kumaritashvili died of the training tragedy, said the Games should be remembered for its great atmosphere and sports performances.

"There was an extraordinary embrace by the city of Vancouver, something I've never seen before," he said. "I spoke to our broadcasters and they were overjoyed with sky high ratings."

Run through Feb. 12-28, the Games witnessed athletes from 26 countries winning medals from the 86 events of 15 disciplines in seven sports, as around 2,500 athletes from 78 countries and regions competed in Vancouver, Richmond and skiing resort Whistler.

After winning the Games' last gold in the men's ice hockey, Canada not only shook off the nagging scar of being the Olympic host country twice without winning a single gold medal either, but also set a record of 14 gold medals from a single Olympic Winter Games.

The previous record was held by the Soviet Union in 1976 and Norway in 2002 who each won 13 golds.

Despite losing the last final 3-2 of ice hockey in overtime to the hosts, the United States, however, collected 37 medals, including nine golds, to break Germany's 36-medal record at the Salt Lake City Games eight years ago.

Failing to top the tally for the fourth straight time, Germany still clung to the second with 10 golds and 30 medals overall, becoming the only NOC to win medal every day as Axel Teichamann placed second in the men's 50km cross-country classic skiing on Sunday morning.

Vancouver will also be remembered as the harbour where Asian powers made breakthrough and traditional winter sports leader Russia suffered a shocking fall.

China reaped brilliant achievement with five titles plus two silvers and four bronzes for an epoch-making seventh place, the first time into top-eight of the Winter Games medal table.

In both Salt Lake City and Turin, China finished consecutively with two golds apiece after making its Winter Olympic debut in 1980.

"We have made important breakthrough at these Games," said Xiao Tian, deputy chef de mission of China's largest ever winter sports delegation.

Comeback star couple Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo awarded China's first figure skating gold in 30 years, and the women skaters swept the four golds from the short track rink as Wang Meng became the first Chinese to win three golds at one single Winter Games.

Among the silver and bronze medals for China are figure skaters Pang Qing and Tong Jian, freestyle aerials skier Li Nina, speed skater world champion Wang Beixing and the women curlers, who won the first medal for China in any team event at the Winter Games.

South Korea tied Switzerland on the fifth place, with three speed skating titles and two from the men's short track, as well as the most coveted women's figure skating gold through Kim Yu-Na.

The 19-year-old wrote her name into the Winter Olympic history after beating Japanese teenage sensation Mao Asada with all record scores for her touching performance of elegant sequences and crispy jumps.

Russia, however, fell from a top-four in Turin to the 11th place with three victories and 15 medals. The winter sports powerhouse only stamped its reign in biathlon and cross-country skiing.

For figure skating, where Russia had its prodigies topping podium at every Olympics since 1960, including three golds in Turin, backed home with a mere silver through comeback hero Evgeni Plushenko and a bronze from ice dancing world champions Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin.

The Russians, however, declined to admit the failure as Plushenko's coach Alexey Missin said: "There's always been ups and downs for athletes and teams. Russia will come back to the podium in another four years."

Asian entries, however, were still hunting for the status in winter sports against superficial boom in medals achieved in Vancouver.

Fielding in 90 athletes, China merely tied own 11-medal performance in Turin and failed to make noise in skiing, a phenomenon shared by South Korea and other Asian delegations.

"We still have a long way to go in the development of China's winter sports," said the Chinese deputy chef de mission Xiao. "It's impossible for us to reach the same level as we have done in summer sports, but we will try to minimize the gap as much as we can."

However, Xiao is not in pessimism, saying that "the Chinese athletes' good performance at the Games has aroused great interest to winter sports of the people back home. We should try our best to transfer their enthusiasm into participation in the sports."

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