The Winter Games came to a celebratory close with the International Olympic Committee president hailing it an "unforgettable Olympic experience".

Fireworks lit up the sky as the closing ceremony reached its end spelling out the words
Fireworks lit up the sky as the closing ceremony reached its end spelling out the words "ONE WORLD". (Reuters)

The Beijing Winter Olympics which saw sporting drama and milestones but was tarnished by a Russian doping scandal has ended with a stunning closing ceremony.

Declaring the Games closed on Sunday and handing over to 2026 hosts Milano-Cortina, International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach hailed an "unforgettable Olympic experience".

The Games will be remembered for new stars such as Eileen Gu but also for the doping controversy which engulfed 15-year-old figure skater Kamila Valieva and because they took place inside a vast Covid-secure "bubble".

The "Bird's Nest" stadium, which also took centre stage when Beijing hosted the 2008 Summer Games, was the scene for a celebratory, snowflake-themed closing ceremony attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping and a socially distanced crowd seated among red lanterns.

There was no mass outbreak of Covid at the Games or in the wider community in the Chinese capital, but Bach said: "If we want to finally overcome this pandemic, we must be faster, we must aim higher, we must be stronger - we must stand together.

"In this Olympic spirit of solidarity, we call on the international community: give equal access to vaccines for everybody around the world."

Fireworks lit up the night sky as the ceremony reached its crescendo, spelling out the words "ONE WORLD".

READ MORE: Russian skater Kamila Valieva cleared to compete in Beijing Olympics

Numerous records

China and its ruling Communist Party will look back on a soft-power success.

Some athletes did catch Covid and the pandemic was never far away - Russia and Canada's women ice hockey teams played each other wearing medical masks after the results of their daily PCR tests failed to arrive in time.

Concerns about human rights had dominated the build-up, with the United States leading a diplomatic boycott by its closest allies over China's rights record. Their athletes did however compete.

China warned in the fraught lead-up that foreign athletes criticising the authorities could face consequences, but in the end, any protests against the hosts were extremely muted.

There were numerous records - among them American bobsleigher Elana Meyers Taylor becoming the most decorated Black athlete in the history of the Winter Olympics.

Snowboarder Zoi Sadowski Synnott made history for New Zealand, winning her country's first Winter Games gold; with Gu pocketing two golds, the hosts enjoyed a significant medal bump and finished third in the medals table with nine golds.

That was easily their best performance in the Winter Games, a place ahead of chief geopolitical rival the United States, on eight golds. For the second Games in a row, Norway topped the medals table, with 16 golds. Germany were second on 12.

READ MORE: Despite lockdown and boycotts, Beijing Winter Games open

Source: TRTWorld and agencies