Curtain falls on memorable Olympic Games

A fireworks display over Salt Lake City brought an end to the Olympic Games Keystone

Riddled with surprises, scandals and plenty of Swiss success stories, the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics have come to a spectacular end.

This content was published on February 25, 2002 - 08:01

Figure skaters, rock bands and fireworks were much in evidence as the Games concluded with the now traditional closing ceremony spectacle.

But the pyrotechnics that erupted above the Rice-Eccles stadium seemed almost pale in comparison to the sporting fireworks of the past two weeks.

After winning no less than 11 Olympic medals, including three golds, the Swiss delegation in particular will look back in satisfaction on a number of explosive performances and very few damp squibs.

The first big bang came just three days into the Games with Swiss ski jumper Simon Ammann leaping from relative obscurity into Olympic history with a shock win in the normal hill event.

Swiftly dubbed the Harry Potter of ski jumping with his fresh-faced appearance and glasses, the 20-year-old from the small Swiss village of Unterwasser had never won a major event before arriving in Salt Lake.

His gold medal triumph ahead of hot favourites Sven Hannewald of Germany and Poland's Adam Malysz looked like going down as one of the freakiest one-offs in Olympic history - until Ammann went and repeated the feat just three days later on the large hill.

"It's all too much", an overwhelmed Ammann told swissinfo after becoming only the second man in Olympic history to win both jumping disciplines at the same Games. "I've always dreamed about jumping well at a major competition but to have all the media coming at me and have everyone congratulating me. I still can't believe it all."

Schoch win

Similar sentiments were expressed by young Zurich snowboarder Philipp Schoch who continued Switzerland's strong start to the Games with a gold medal in the parallel giant slalom.

"The words fail me," said the 22-year-old boarder whose previous best performance in the discipline had been a seventh place finish at a World Cup meeting in Ischgl.

A bronze medal for former junior world champion Fabienne Reuteler in the women's halfpipe saw the Swiss snowboard team exactly match their impressive performance from the sport's Olympic debut at the Nagano Games.

Among the Swiss teams improving on their Nagano performance were the country's curlers and bobsledders.

Although unable to defend the gold medal won by Patrick Hürlimann's quartet in Japan, Christof Schwaller's side played exceptionally well to beat reigning world and European champions Sweden to the men's curling bronze. Coupled with a silver medal in the women's event for the Bern team of Luzia Ebnöther, the Salt Lake Games marked a further step forward by Switzerland in curling's second Olympic appearance.

Switzerland's much longer history of success in the bobsleigh was extended, meanwhile by Christian Reich and Martin Annen who, along with their brakemen, clinched silver and bronze respectively in the two-man discipline.

A bronze medal in the men's skeleton for veteran Swiss slider Gregor Stähli completed a remarkable comeback by a man who had retired from the sport in 1994 only to return three years ago on hearing of skeleton's Olympic reinstatement.

There was also a major surprise for Switzerland's skiers, though not in the country's favourite alpine category.

Rare cross-country joy

While the downhill variety of Swiss skiers struggled to make it into the medal standings, four of their cross-country colleagues produced a stunning performance with Andrea Huber, Laurence Rochat, Brigitte Albrecht-Loretan and Natascia Leonardi-Cortesi grabbing a totally unexpected bronze medal in the women's 4x5km relay.

The Olympic medal was Switzerland's first ever in women's cross-country and only the country's fourth for either the men or the women.

"It was a very big surprise and I am very, very happy," a delighted Rochat told swissinfo afterwards. "This is my first Winter Olympics and to win my first medal here is just a dream."

For the alpine skiers, Salt Lake City came closer to resembling a nightmare. Only a bronze medal by giant slalom world champion Sonja Nef in the final women's event prevented the alpine team from returning home empty-handed.

Tipped as a possible contender for three Olympic medals prior to the Games, alpine skiing star Didier Cuche was one of the Swiss suffering a surprise of the unwanted kind, crashing out of the men's super-G when apparently just seconds from taking the gold.

Snowboarder Gilles Jaquet and freestyle skier Evelyn Leu suffered similar upsets after both qualifying in top place in their respective disciplines only to crash out of contention in the finals.

Though never expected to challenge for medals, Switzerland's ice hockey team also saw their Olympic campaign end in disappointment. Confidently aiming for a place in the tournament's quarter-finals, Ralph Krueger's men instead failed to progress beyond the preliminary round after an opening day draw to France and a humiliating defeat to Ukraine.

Surprises aplenty

Switzerland's athletes were of course not the only ones to pull off or suffer from major upsets at an Olympics which included not only the brilliant, but also the incredible and the bizarre.

In the ice hockey, the minnows of Belarus produced arguably the biggest shock in the sport's Olympic history by ousting Sweden in the quarter-finals, although the most bizarre result of the Games had to be that of Australian short track speed skater Steven Bradbury.

In last place going into the final bend, Bradbury sailed across the finish line to take gold in the 1,000-metre final after the four skaters in front of him crashed out in a pileup.

No shortage of controversy

While there were plenty of sporting heroics to celebrate in Salt Lake, the latest edition of the Winter Games was also marred by frequent scandal.

The now infamous row over alleged corruption in the judging of the figure skating pairs competition and the last-gasp disqualification of Russia's cross-country team from the women's 4x5km relay saw Russia threatening to withdraw from the Games.

South Korea also threatened a boycott after speed skater Kim Dong-Sung had his gold medal taken away after he was judged to have boycotted America's Apolo Anton.

On the final day of competition, three Olympic athletes were expelled from the Games after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug not yet on the International Olympic Committee's banned list.

Insisting that the IOC would stay hot "on the heels" of drug cheats, medical commission chairman Arne Ljunqqvist announced that cross-country gold medallists Johann Muehlegg of Spain and Larissa Lazutina of Russia had been thrown out of the Games along with Lazutina's team-mate Olga Danilova.

While Muehlegg and Lazutina were both stripped of a gold medal each, the pair were allowed to keep medals won in earlier events at the Salt Lake Games.

"Technically, they are Olympic champions," said IOC president Jacques Rogge afterwards. "Morally it is a different issue."

While stating that he was "extremely pleased" with the way the Games had gone, Rogge admitted he would have plenty of work ahead of him following his return to IOC headquarters in the Swiss city of Lausanne.

In particular, Rogge said he would be working with individual sports federations to assure greater fairness in the judging of events.

by Mark Ledsom with agencies

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