|World joins China in revelry as "truly exceptional" Beijing Olympics come to end(08/25/08)|
BEIJING, Aug. 24 (Xinhua) -- The competitions are over and the party begins, all medals were given out but the memory stays. In a lavish closing ceremony illuminated by a fireworks extravaganza, the world's top athletes joined their Chinese hosts to celebrate the success of the 29th summer Olympic Games on Sunday night.
When the Olympic flame, after 16 days of burning in the National Stadium, or the Bird's Nest, in north Beijing, went out at 9:24 p.m. Sunday, a gala of songs and dances was staged in the stadium, turning the ceremony into a big party.
Surrounded by several thousand Olympians, all in casual wear and jubilant mood, nearly 3,000 Chinese performers and volunteers started a spectacular circle dance, around a 20-meter-tall "Memory Tower," which resembled the heaven-reaching Babel.
"These were truly exceptional Games!" hailed International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge, before he declared the Games closed in front of 91,000-strong spectators, including Chinese President Hu Jintao who inaugurated the Games on Aug. 8 and dozens of foreign leaders and world dignitaries.
"Through these Games, the world learned more about China, and China learned more about the world," said the IOC chief, who thanked the Chinese people, the "wonderful volunteers" and the Games' organizers in his closing speech.
The over-two-hour closing ceremony started at 8 p.m. with splendid fireworks forming a huge circle, a symbol of perfection, harmony and endlessness in the Chinese culture, over the Bird's Nest.
And its climax arrived when the cauldron was doused in an affectionate way with a reminiscent touch: Three athletes ascended a boarding ladder truck with the radio announcing a London-bound flight, and gazed at the sacred flame atop the stadium. One of them took out and unfolded an exquisite Chinese painting scroll, while the bowl rim of the Bird's Nest, which is a 500-meter-long, 14-meter-wide circular screen, changed into a "red track" and the spectacular and memorable scenes of the Games were projected on it, day by day.
The Olympic flame went out slowly as the athlete folded the painting again. But at the same time, a fresh "flame" was lit in the stadium, with 396 performers on the "Memory Tower" simulating fire with their bodies and the entire audience turning on the torch lights in their hands.
Photo taken on Aug. 24, 2008 shows the performance of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games closing ceremony in the National Stadium, or the Bird's Nest, Beijing, capital of China. (Xinhua/Xing Guangli) Photo Gallery>>>
"The fire of the Chinese people's passion to embrace the world will burn forever," said Liu Qi, president of the Beijing Organizing Committee of the 29th Olympic Games (BOCOG), at the ceremony.
Describing the Games' duration as "16 glorious days which we will cherish forever," the IOC president said the world would "long remember" the achievements in Beijing by "new stars" and "stars from past Games."
As the most watched Games in history, with an estimated 4.5 billion TV and Internet viewers, these Olympic Games in Beijing are sure to be remembered, with history made, records toppled, dreams fulfilled, and tears of joy or sorrow shed here.
These Games have attracted the most participants -- from a record 204 countries and regions -- while reporting the fewest doping scandals, with only six athletes, none of them a gold medalist, failing to pass the 4,500 random and post-competition tests so far.
These Games have witnessed the rise of Asia, as China, with home advantages for its athletes, topped the gold medal table with a record haul of 51 golds, 15 more than the second-placed United States, and Mongolia and Bahrain celebrated their first ever Olympic gold in wild ecstasy.
War-torn Afghanistan and Sudan also had their first taste of Olympic glory in Beijing, with a historic taekwondo bronze and athletics silver, respectively.
World records tumbled like the dominos at these Games, as Jamaica's "Lightning" Bolt clocked mankind's fastest speed for both 100m and 200m sprint on the track of the Bird's Nest, and a whopping 19 world and 41 Olympic records were produced in the swimming pool of the National Aquatics Center, or the Water Cube, alone.
Michael Phelps, the "American flying fish" as many Chinese fans called him, smiled after he fulfilled his long-held dream of an eight-for-eight gold sweep with seven fresh world records, and became the greatest ever Olympian with a personal collection of 14 swimming golds at two consecutive Games.
Hundreds of thousands of Chinese cried when they saw their star hurdler Liu Xiang limp off the track in a first-round heat for an old tendon injury on his right foot, shattering the country's hope for an athletics gold.
With or without a medal, the athletes are always the Games' heroes. Without distinction of nationality, they entered the National Stadium en masse on Sunday night, amid thundering cheers from the stands and unique welcoming tunes -- a mixture of drum beating and the ringing of numerous tiny silver bells on the costumes of 1,148 dancing girls.
The athletes, totally relieved of the competition pressure, all smiled broadly and waved hands or flags toward the stands in excitement. Many gave thumbs-up or made faces in front of the camera lens, while some even carried their fellows on their shoulders in celebration.
The last three medals of these Games were awarded to the winners of men's marathon, with Samuel Kamau Wansiru of Kenya taking the gold, and the silver and bronze going to Jaouad Gharib of Morocco and Tsegay Kebede of Ethiopia respectively.
"To the athletes tonight: You were true role models," said the IOC chief, who personally presented the marathon gold. "You have shown us the unifying power of sport."
And the athletes have their heroes to laud and thank, too.
In an unprecedented gesture of gratitude, three newly-elected members of the Athletes' Commission of the IOC presented flower bouquets to 12 Chinese and foreign volunteers serving the Beijing Games, who represented not only the 70,000-strong volunteers working at the Games facilities, but also some 1.4 million others who helped the Games organizers in security, transport, information and lodging services.
"We hope you will bear in mind the vigour and vitality of Beijing and the co-host cities, bear in mind the Chinese people who are deeply faithful to the Olympic Movement, and bear in mind the smile and dedication of the volunteers," said Liu Qi, the BOCOG chief.
Shortly before the extinguishing of the Olympic flame in the Bird's Nest, a brief ceremony was held to mark the passing of the host baton from Beijing to London.
Via the IOC president, Beijing Mayor Guo Jinlong handed over the Olympic flag to his London counterpart Boris Johnson, who waved the flag to signal the start of an eight-minute handover performance from the Games' next host.
The two-million-pound (3.74 million U.S. dollars) show, designed to showcase London as a "young and vibrant" city, drove the crowd wild, especially when soccer superstar David Beckham kicked a "welcome ball" from atop a red double-decker bus, the city's icon.
Winning its bid for the 2012 Olympics in July 2005 over Moscow, New York, Madrid and Paris, the British capital will become the first city to officially host the modern Olympic Games three times, having previously done so in 1908 and 1948.
Interestingly, the Chinese believed it was the 1908 London Games that first ignited their Olympic passion. Historical archives showed that shortly after the London Olympics, a magazine based in north China's port city of Tianjin published an article and first raised the question: When will China be able to host the Olympic Games?
And when this century-old dream finally came true, the Chinese have shown the world that they would give everything to guarantee the complete success of the Beijing Games.
While there had been worries about the air quality in Beijing even days before the Games' opening, the host city answered such concerns with consecutive days of high, blue skies over the past two weeks, which "reminded many European visitors of Mediterranean conditions" - as described by some international media - and made a few athletes coming to Beijing with facial masks find their equipment totally useless.
Behind this were the host city's seven-year efforts to minimize pollution, highlighted by the thorough relocation of a gigantic steel company, and a pre-Games traffic ban that rested two thirds of the city's 3 million vehicles, with most local residents readily accepting it and turning to public buses for commuting.
The Beijingers and people in the six co-host cities also took with little complaint the great inconvenience caused by strict security precautions, imposed by the authorities amid mounting threats of terrorist attacks and violent crimes.
And with the Games' successful conclusion on Sunday night, all the efforts, sacrifice and endurance of the Chinese have paid off.
"The Beijing Olympic Games is a testimony of the fact that the world has its trust rested upon China," said chief organizer Liu Qi, with pride. "The Chinese people, teeming with enthusiasm, have honored the commitments they solemnly made."
"These Games are going to be spectacular and I say that with some trepidation because they are going to be setting high standards for the future," commented London 2012 Chief Executive Paul Deighton ahead of the Beijing Olympics, adding that he thought "the Beijing Games could end up being unique."
"High-standard and unique," that was just the target the Beijing Games organizers had set for themselves.
"Give Beijing an opportunity, and harvest a pleasant surprise!" This was what Beijing told the world when it first bid for the Olympic Games 15 years back. While the world might have forgotten this bidding slogan after Beijing's defeat to Sydney by the slightest margin of two votes in Monte Carlo 1993, the Chinese have not -- and they have kept their word.