Ski hero ‘to lead’ team at Olympics closing ceremony after record-breaking Games for Russians
Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) triple gold medal hero Alexander Bolshunov will lead the record-breaking team as its standard-bearer at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics closing ceremony, according to reports.
The president of the Russian Ski Racing Federation, Yelena Valbe, confirmed that Bulshunov, who significantly contributed to his country's all-time high of 31 medals at the Games, will be the figurehead for the ROC at the Chinese national stadium on Sunday, RIA reported.
Starting with a win in the 30km skiathlon, Bolshunov also claimed top honors in the 4 x 10km relay and the 50km freestyle.
The 25-year-old bagged silver in the 15km classic race and bronze in the team sprint, making him the ROC's most successful athlete at the Games.
The closing ceremony is expected to be another spectacular show from Zhang Yimouto, the legendary filmmaker also responsible for curating the opening ceremony.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, attended the opening, while countries including the US carried out a diplomatic boycott.
Putin, whose country had targeted 30 medals at the Games, congratulated Bolshunov after his first medal, thanking the champion from the "bottom of my heart" while praising his "excellent fighting qualities on one of the most complex distances".
"I am convinced that your performance will become an inspiring example for all of our Olympians," Putin added in the message which appeared on the Kremlin website.
The ROC went on to win a further five gold medals alongside 11 silver and 14 bronze honors.
Hockey player Vadim Shipachyov, who could still win gold in the men's ice hockey final against Finland on Sunday, and speed skater Olga Fatkulina carried the flag for the ROC at the opening ceremony.
This time the ROC will be led by Bolshunov, who delivered his third gold medal in brutal conditions when the 50km race had to be cut in length and postponed by an hour.
The closing ceremony sees athletes walking as a mixed group. Founding country Greece will lead with their flag and, after the Olympic flag is lowered, the Chinese flag will be raised.
The flag of Italy, which will host the next winter Games in Milan and Cortina d'Ampezzo in 2026, will then fly.
Once the Olympic flag is handed to the mayors of the Italian cities, the International Olympic Committee's president, Thomas Bach, will declare the 2022 Winter Olympics closed, meaning the Olympic flame can be extinguished.