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Jessica Diggins is U.S. flag-bearer in Olympics closing ceremonies

Flag bearer Jessica Diggins of the United States

Flag bearer Jessica Diggins of the United States with Team USA participates in the Parade of Athletes during the Closing Ceremony of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at PyeongChang Olympic Stadium on February 25, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea. Credit: Getty Images / Andreas Rentz

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Pyeongchang closed one of the more gracious, efficient and warmhearted Olympics in recent memory Sunday, ending South Korea’s first Winter Games with a joyous celebration of a job well done.

Unlike recent Olympics overshadowed by dirty air and water, unfinished venues, broken budgets and corruption, Pyeongchang ran the world’s largest sporting event in remarkably efficient fashion. An Olympics that began with a hint of a thaw in relations between South and North Korea ended with a promise to continue pursuing diplomacy, as the two nations again marched into Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium together.

Jessie Diggins, of Afton, Minnesota, who won the first-ever gold medal for the United States in cross-country skiing, was among athletes from 92 nations who paraded their flags one last time before saying goodbye.

“Thank you for warming our hearts, even in the coldest temperatures,” said International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach in his closing speech. “To the gracious hosts, the people of Korea, I say thank you.”

Norway led all nations with 39 medals, a Winter Games record. The last one came Sunday afternoon in the final competition, the women’s cross-country 30-kilometer mass start classic, and it carried special meaning. Marit Bjoergen, 37, won by nearly two minutes to conclude her fifth and final Olympics with her eighth career gold medal, tying the Olympic record.

Norway and Germany tied for the most gold medals with 14 each. The United States finished fourth in both gold medals (nine) and total medals (23), its smallest medal count at a Winter Games since 1998.

Alan Ashley, chief of sport performance for the U.S. Olympic Committee, said he was not dwelling on the numbers. He noted that American athletes finished between fourth and sixth place 35 times.

“We always want to do better,” Ashley said. “But I’m probably more encouraged than I’ve ever been, even though people say, ‘You didn’t hit your medal count.’ I look at this as an opportunity for us. And the way [the U.S. athletes] represented their country, their families and their communities has been truly fantastic.”

The 144 athletes of the home team, South Korea, won five gold and 17 overall medals to finish in seventh place in the standings. It also produced some unlikely stars.

The women’s curling team wasn’t expected to challenge for a medal, but the “Garlic Girls” — who come from a town famous for producing garlic — won silver and became a national sensation.

“Even though it was a short period, Korea was happy because of your warmhearted friendship and passion,” said Lee Hee-beom, the Games’ chief organizer. “We will never forget you.”

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