Best Games end with greatest show on earth
Goodbye London - Olympics closing ceremony
Fireworks explode over the Olympic stadium during the closing ceremony. Photo: REUTERS
Olympic closing ceremonies tend to be anti-climactic if festive affairs, punctuated by unruly athletes, the marathon medal ceremony, anthems, a cultural handover and gratuitous speeches. They are best avoided by burnt-out sportswriters at the end of a Games campaign and better left to patriotic home supporters.
Until now. Yet again London has raised the Olympic bar. To call Sunday night's artistic extravaganza a closing ceremony would be to understate its brilliance - and brilliant it was in an exclusively British way. To describe it as a rock concert does not go far enough although no promoter could have reunited The Spice Girls - prancing about atop London cabs, no less - to appear alongside The Who, Eric Idle, Liam Gallagher, Annie Lennox, One Direction and Fat Boy Slim. To name a few.
George Michael probably should have quit once he sang Freedom and you have to wonder who fell foul of who where the organising committee and The Rolling Stones were concerned
Perhaps it could be summed up as an epic pantomime, celebrating half-a-century of British music, dance, literature, comedy, art and - well - supermodels. When John Lennon's face was put together with broken pieces of sculpture in the middle of the stadium as a remastered version of "Imagine" came to a close it felt like not only the late former Beatle but the rest of us 80,000 watching in the stadium were about to be submerged finally in yet another version of the Union Jack designed this time by Damien Hirst.
There was a flying saxophonist from Madness in a kilt as that band played "Our House", there were psychedelic street parties on open buses, there was Lennox in a ghost galleon and the spirit of Freddie Mercury. Ray Davies perhaps provided the perfect moment with his "Waterloo Sunset", prima ballerina Darcy Bussell also emerged suspended in mid-air and Jessie J provided a great pop music moment with "Price Tag". The warm-up man before the ceremony began had set the tone when he warned the crowd to brace themselves for "the greatest show on earth".
To be overly picky there were only a couple of questions where the music was concerned. George Michael probably should have quit once he sang "Freedom" and you have to wonder who fell foul of who where the organising committee and The Rolling Stones were concerned. And Elton John? Perhaps he's simply become too old and too grumpy.
The outgoing president of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, in a deferential pun aimed at the absent Her Majesty described the London Olympics as "happy and glorious". But it seemed churlish of him not to defer to the old Olympic tradition and describe 2012 as the greatest Games ever. The only conclusion heading out of the stadium for the final time was that the most beautiful opening ceremony launched the best Olympics which were brought to a close by a smash hit epitaph.
The Games chairman, Sebastian Coe, was less restrained. "Today sees the closing of a wonderful Games in a wonderful city," he said (cue thunderous applause). "We lit up the flame and we lit up the world." For the third time, said Lord Coe, London had successfully hosted the Games and justified the faith of the Olympic movement."
Mercifully, the word legacy did not creep in when he added: "What we have begun will not stop now. The spirit of these Games will inspire a generation ... We know now as a nation just what we are capable of." The 2016 host city, Rio de Janiero, arrived in the ceremony with a Carioca bang, followed by a colourful carnival highlighted with a cameo appearance by a disguised Pele in what was the most impressive performance by the handover nation.
Earlier, in one of the most moving musical moments, Emeli Sande performed her song "Read All About It" against a backdrop of London landmarks on a stage covered by newspapers bearing famous lines from English literature. "It's about time we had some memory of our version of events," she sang prophetically. Russell Brand, evoking Roald Dahl and The Beatles' "A Day In The Life", paid his own small tribute to two of the stadium's headline acts when he mimicked Usain Bolt and Mo Farah.
The true version of events is that while Lord Coe thanked all of Great Britain for getting behind the 2012 Olympics, the nation and, more specifically, the city of London took their time. Londoners largely moaned about the Olympics only shifting that position about one month or less before the opening. By the start the mood in London was hopeful, apprehensive but still a wee bit cynical.
There was excitement but the inevitable hiccups. Little ones like lost buses and traffic snarls; bigger ones related to ticketing issues and a major and costly catastrophe with the security firm's failure to deliver. Worse, psychologically, was the failure in the early days of competition for the home team to actually win an event. But all that is now a distant memory.
Because if the most moving moment of Sunday night's closing spectacular came when the IOC's representative athletes embraced the volunteers then the only negative for the crowd was when the Olympic cauldron was extinguished, an event accompanied by loud booing.
Comparisons are odious but the prevailing view after London is that Sydney is no longer the city that has hosted the greatest modern Olympics. Sydney's closing ceremony was emotional and star-studded with Australians but an afterthought in contrast to what took place on Sunday night.
But they were good memories. A personal view is that Sydney's opening with the lone horseman still boasts the greatest dramatic moment of any ceremony since the archer lit the flame in Barcelona. And Sydney 2000 was not punctuated by today's sophisticated and invasive security because it took place before the September 11 attacks. The world was a different place then and Australia a different team.
To loosely borrow another famous line from British literature, that was in the past. And for Australia's Olympic fortunes the past is a foreign country where they do things differently. London is resting on its laurels now. Deservedly.
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