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BEIJING — An Olympic Games beset by COVID-19 concerns, politics, and later tarnished by (another) Russian doping scandal is now over.
After 16 days and 109 events, the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics officially ended Sunday with the traditional closing ceremony.
A small, but enthusiastic, group of spectators sat in the stands at Beijing's Bird's Nest stadium during the bitterly cold night in the host city. Some did the wave and cheerfully waved the Chinese flag while waiting for the night's festivities to start.
Chinese President Xi Jinping sat next to International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach in the stands, watching the ceremony unfold.
The athletes paraded one last time
The performances were limited, echoing the muted opening ceremony held earlier this month. Organizers emphasized snow and ice as the main theme. The center stage of the Birds Nest was composed of 11,600 square meters of an LED screen which aimed to imitate "a crystal clear ice surface" throughout the ceremony.
Triumphant athletes, appearing no less excited than they did during the opening ceremony, proudly waved their nation's flags during the parade of athletes.
American bobsledder Elana Meyers Taylor was elected the U.S. flag bearer for the closing ceremony — the first athlete selected as the U.S. flag bearer for both the Winter Olympics' opening and closing ceremonies since 1948.
She lost out on the chance to carry her country's flag during the opening ceremony after testing positive for COVID-19 and needing to isolate.
During the Games, Meyers Taylor won the silver medal in the first-ever monobob event and a bronze medal in the two-woman bobsled.
Some parading athletes were heading home with prized hardware around their necks and proudly showcased those hard-won medals to the passing cameras.
Team U.S.A. finished with 25 medals
The U.S. finished the Beijing Olympics with 25 medals (8 gold, 10 silver and 7 bronze). That puts the U.S. tied for fourth place (in terms of the number of gold) and fifth place (in total medal count). Norway topped the leader board for both categories, with 37 total medals total — including 16 gold. Host country China finished with 15 total medals, including nine gold.
During the closing ceremony, organizers held the last medal ceremony for the women's cross country 30km mass start. U.S. skier Jessie Diggins won silver after a tough push to the finish line. Norway's Therese Johaug won gold and Finland's Kerttu Niskanen won bronze.
Diggins' disclosed after her competition that she suffered from food poisoning not 30 hours before her race. After she finished, she collapsed and was down for several minutes. But her exhaustion from earlier in the day disappeared as Diggins jumped up and down on the podium as she received her medal.
As part of Sunday's ceremony, IOC leader Bach transferred the Olympic flag to the mayors of the Italian cities of Milan and Cortino, the hosts of the 2026 Winter Games.
Brian Mann contributed to this report. contributed to this story
Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.
Corrected: February 20, 2022 at 12:00 AM EST
A previous version of this story incorrectly said the U.S. was third place in total medal count. In fact, the U.S. was fifth.