An Olympics that began with a tragedy ended with an exuberant celebration of Canada - reflecting a determined comeback by the host country. Medal tally
A poignant and proud finale
VANCOUVER // An Olympics that began with a tragedy ended with an exuberant celebration of Canada - reflecting a determined comeback by the host country's organisers and athletes. A festive crowd of 60,000 jammed into BC Place Stadium on Sunday for the closing ceremony, many of them Canadians still buzzing over the overtime victory by their men's ice hockey team earlier in the day to give the hosts a Winter Olympics record of 14 gold medals.
"Canada's athletes came to these games not with a swagger but with a confidence they could do what they set out to do," said Michael Chambers, the president of the Canadian Olympic Committee. "What they have done over the course of these past two weeks - they've inspired an entire nation to believe in themselves." Sunday's festivities - capped by a boisterous concert - contrasted sharply with the moment of silence at the opening ceremony on February 12 for Nodar Kumaritashvili, the 21-year-old luger killed in a horrific training-run crash on the controversial sliding track in Whistler just hours before the start of the Olympics.
The chief Vancouver organiser, John Furlong, and ,Jacques Rogge, the International Olympic Committee president, both paid tribute to the young athlete on Sunday. "We are so sorry for your loss," Furlong said, addressing the nation of Georgia. "May the legacy of your favourite son never be forgotten and serve to inspire youth everywhere to be champions in life." Furlong then shifted to a more upbeat tone.
"I believe Canadians tonight are stronger, more united, more in love with our country and more connected to each other than ever before," he said. He paid tribute to the moguls skier Alexandre Bilodeau, winner of Canada's first gold medal at the Games, and said of the final gold, won by the Canada men's ice hockey team: "Our last one will be remembered for generations." Rogge then pronounced the Games closed.
Neil Young, the veteran Canadian singer-songwriter, performed a lyrical version of his Long May You Run - and the Olympic flame faded away as he ended. Canadian officials ensured an extra measure of poignancy at the ceremony by selecting the Montreal figure skater Joannie Rochette as their flagbearer. Her mother died of a heart attack hours after arriving in Vancouver last weekend, but Rochette chose to carry on and won a bronze medal, inspiring her teammates and fans around the world.
"Yes, it's been a tough week for me," she said before the ceremony. "But I walk tonight into that stadium with a big smile on my face. "I accomplished my goals, and I want to celebrate with my teammates." Her entire team was greeted with a mighty roar when they joined the fast-moving, informal parade of athletes into the stadium. Among the cheerleaders was the Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, wearing a Canada jacket.
There were plenty of reasons for Canada and the United States to celebrate after 17 days of competition. The US won 37 medals overall - the most for any nation in a Winter Olympics. Canada's gold medal haul, after a slow start, sparked public enthusiasm in Vancouver that veterans of multiple Olympics described as unsurpassed. The comeback by the Canadian athletes was mirrored by the resilience of the Vancouver Organising Committee. It struggled with a series of glitches and weather problems early in the Games, adjusted as best it could, and reached the finish line winning widespread praise for an exceptional Olympics - albeit one tinged with sadness.
Right from the start of the closing show, there was a spirit of redemption as the producers made up for an opening-ceremony glitch in which one leg of the Olympic cauldron failed to rise from the stadium floor. On Sunday, the recalcitrant leg rose smoothly and the former speedskating medallist Catriona LeMay Doan - who missed out on the opening-night flame lighting because of the glitch - got to perform that duty this time.
Later came the traditional hand-over ceremony, during which the Olympic flag was lowered and presented to the hosts of the next Winter Games in 2014. Vancouver's mayor, Gregor Robertson, handed over the five-ringed flag to the IOC's Rogge, who passed it on to Anatoly Pakhomov, the mayor of Sochi, Russia. Other key moments in the closing included a tongue-in-cheek revue of Canadian icons and symbols, featuring singing-and-dancing Mounties, tabletop hockey players, dancing canoes and flying moose and beavers. Canadian actors - including William Shatner and Michael J Fox - made fun of national stereotypes. Fox, who has Parkinson's disease, received a huge ovation. "I lived in the US for 30 years," Fox said. "But if the US is playing Canada in hockey, I'm sorry, I'm wearing a maple leaf on my sweater." * AP