Russia says Games 'broke the ice', hosts lead medals table

Sat Feb 22, 2014 12:41pm EST
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By Mike Collett-White

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Russia leapt to the top of the medals table on Saturday with two more golds as the Sochi Olympics entered the final stretch, and the host nation said its first Winter Games had helped "break the ice" of skepticism towards it.

Organizers were confident they had achieved what they, and President Vladimir Putin, had set out to do - project Russia as a modern, tolerant country that had thrown off the shackles of its Soviet past.

The icing on the cake was home gold in the men's snowboard parallel slalom and men' biathlon relay, lifting Russia above Norway in the rankings with just three more titles to be decided on Sunday, the final day.

"The friendly faces, the warm Sochi sun and the glare of the Olympic gold have broken the ice of skepticism towards the new Russia," said Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, also Putin's Olympics organizer.

"The Games have turned our country, its culture and the people into something that is a lot closer and more appealing and understandable for the rest of the world."

The jury is still out over whether the world agrees, but Putin is likely to be generally pleased that the Games went smoothly, without security scares despite Islamist militant threats and only isolated expressions of dissent to his rule.

There have been problems, however.

On Saturday, the Ukraine National Olympic Committee said cross-country skier Marina Lisogor had failed a doping test, a day after a German and Italian athlete were thrown out of Sochi for taking banned substances.   Continued...

The winning Russian team celebrates on the podium during the flower ceremony for the men's 5,000 metres short track speed skating final relay race at the Iceberg Skating Palace in the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games February 21, 2014. REUTERS/David Gray