- The Washington Times - Monday, February 25, 2002

SALT LAKE CITY After 17 days of competition laced with controversy, the Salt Lake City Olympics concluded yesterday with a hockey game for the ages and a closing ceremony worthy of a Super Bowl halftime show.
"On behalf of the Olympic movement, I want to thank our hosts, the American people, for offering us these two unforgettable weeks," said International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge. "People of America, Utah and Salt Lake City, you have given the world superb Games."
Following two hours at Rice-Eccles Stadium, in which Olympic pomp like the "Child of Light" mixed with American musical acts from the likes of Kiss and Earth, Wind and Fire, the Olympic Cauldron was extinguished and Mr. Rogge officially closed the Games, inviting the world to reconvene at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy.
Five-time Olympian Brian Shimer, a bronze medalist in bobsled, carried the American flag into the stadium.
Earlier in the day, a sold-out E Center was treated to the final event of the Games, the much-anticipated gold medal hockey match between the United States and Canada.
In a contest crackling with friendships, rivalries and an impressive collection of National Hockey League All-Stars, Joe Sakic notched two goals and two assists as the Canadians won 5-2, ending their 50-year gold medal drought in the sport.
For the United States, it was the best Olympic hockey finish since the 1980 gold medal-winning "Miracle on Ice" squad.
"Overall, we had a great tournament," said U.S. captain Chris Chelios.
An Olympics marked by controversy also produced one parting scandal: Spain's Johann Muehlegg and Russia's Larissa Lazutina, both cross-country skiers, were thrown out of the Games and stripped of their respective gold medals yesterday after testing positive for performance-enhancing substances. Russian cross-country skier Olga Danilova was tossed out for the same reason. A female Belarussian short track skater also flunked a drug test earlier in the Games.
Thanks to a home ice and snow advantage as well as a seven-year, $40 million winter sports plan born out of a disappointing eight-medal performance at the 1988 Calgary Games, the United States captured a record 34 medals, more than doubling its previous Winter Olympic best of 13.
With 10 gold, 13 silver and 11 bronze medals, the United States finished second in the final medal standings. Germany led all nations with 35 medals.
"I feel like a proud mother today," said United States Olympic Committee President Sandra Baldwin. "We've put a lot of work and a lot of time into these Games. I couldn't be more thrilled."
American snowboarders took home five medals, including a sweep in the men's halfpipe.
The U.S. men's bobsled team won silver and bronze, breaking a 46-year medal drought. The women's bobsled team captured the first gold ever awarded in the sport, with Vonetta Flowers becoming the first black American to win Winter Games gold.
After his winning run in men's skeleton, third-generation Olympian and athlete's oath-taker Jim Shea Jr., held up a picture of his recently deceased grandfather, Jack Shea, who was a double-gold winner in 1932. Speedskater Chris Witty fought off mononucleosis to set a world record and win gold. Snowboarder Chris Klug, nearly two years removed from a liver transplant, captured bronze in parallel giant slalom.
"It seems like there's been this snowball effect, and every [U.S.] athlete has been kind of behind each other," said U.S. speedskater Derek Parra, who won gold and silver. "To go into a venue and hear that U-S-A chant, it's just an unbelievable feeling, energizing."
Beyond athletic glory, the Salt Lake City Games will be remembered for controversy, beginning with a 1998 bid and bribery scandal that nearly derailed the whole effort.
A judging scandal in pairs figure skating dominated the first week of Olympic news, as French pairs judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne was found guilty of misconduct in a competition won by a Russian pair; the silver-winning Canadian pair of Jamie Sale and David Pelletier were later awarded a rare second gold medal.
That decision coupled with judgments against Team Russia in several other sports, including women's figure skating and women's cross-country infuriated the Russian delegation.
The Russians threatened to pull out of the Olympics but later recanted, even as the lower house of the Russian parliament voted unanimously for Team Russia to boycott the closing ceremonies.
"I have mixed feelings at the end of these Games," said Russian IOC member Vitaly Smirnov. "One one hand, there were great victories. On the other hand there were scandals, rule violations, judging problems. [The Russian parliament] didn't react strongly for no reason."

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