London Olympics close with more music and much praise

August 12, 2012|By Jean Marbella, The Baltimore Sun | By Jean Marbella, The Baltimore Sun

LONDON — — It must be true: All good things indeed must come to an end — a fireworks-strafing, confetti-showering and rock-god-reviving end if you're talking about the Summer Olympics that concluded Sunday.

"We lit the flame, and we lit up the world," said Sebastian Coe, head of the organizing committee and an Olympic medalist himself — he won two golds and two silvers in the 1980s.

"On this last day, I can finish with these words," he said. "When our time came, Britain, we did it right."

Coe spoke during the closing ceremony ending a Games that seem destined to go down as a success on several levels — certainly on the athletic level, with the likes of Baltimore swimmer Michael Phelpsbecoming the most decorated Olympian ever, swimmer Missy Franklin bursting onto the scene as a 17-year-old with five medals, including four golds, and Usain Bolt striking 100- and 200-meter lightning golds in his second straight Olympics.

And there was the success of the event itself, an undertaking that drew raves from some of the toughest critics around: the British people themselves, many of whom had fretted in advance over anticipated traffic, security and even weather nightmares that for the most part failed to fulfill the dire prophecies.

"Brilliant," Sharon Mitchell, 36, and her boyfriend, David Markie, also 36, couldn't stop saying. The couple, both construction workers who live in Northhamptonshire, took in gymnastics, badminton and, on Sunday, the gold-medal match of a sport they didn't even know they liked until they got tickets for it, men's handball.

The transit, the sports, the venues, all the medals Team Great Britian won — all brilliant, they said.

"What are we going to watch after this?" Mitchell wondered.

Perhaps they taped the closing ceremony, a raucous tribute to British music that gave the athletes, many wearing their medals, one last party before they scatter. After they paraded onto the stage, segmented to look like a giant Union Jack, the athletes settled into the sunken wedges between the flag lines for the rest of the show.

It didn't have quite the charm and eccentricity of the Danny Boyle-directed opening ceremony, an evocation of British culture that featured the Queen herself, in a skit with James Bond, as well as dancing National Health Service doctors and nurses, cavorting Mary Poppinses and the beloved Mr. Bean joining the Chariots of Fire runners.

Instead, before an audience that included Prince Harry and his sister-in-law Kate, Sunday's extravaganza was a little more karaoke bar and a little less high-minded. Although there was an attempt at a bit of a narrative, a day that begins with newspapers and ends with a street sweeper, it was mostly a string of musical numbers.

There was a Spice Girls reunion, all five seemingly starved and buffed to their '90s shapes, and appearances by the Pet Shop Boys, Ray Davies, Annie Lennox, Liam Gallagher, Eric Idle, Russell Brand and, perhaps best of all, an extended final set by The Who. Poignantly, John Lennon joined the festivities, singing "Imagine" in footage remastered by Yoko Ono herself and signed on stage by a children's choir from Liverpool.

There were also a few missteps — George Michael gets two songs? David Bowie doesn't show but his music is background for runway-walking supermodels?

In addition to the musical review, there was business to transact: The Games were closed here and transferred to the 2016 host, a move symbolized by London Mayor Boris Johnson handing off the Olympic flag to his counterpart in Rio de Janeiro, Eduardo Paes — thus triggering much samba dancing on stage.

There was a reluctance, though, to let go of this Olympics just yet. The audience at the stadium, home to some dazzling track and field events, booed when the Games were declared closed, and the cauldron started to fade.

"These were happy and glorious Games," said Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee.

There may have been some dissent on that account in some parts of town: Cabdrivers, for example, continued to grumble that they had lost fares as traffic lanes were set aside for official Olympic vehicles. Some restauranteurs, complained that they lost regular customers who, fearing congestion or encouraged to telecommute for work, stayed home during the Games.

But while the final balance sheet won't be known for some time, Visa, the credit card company, said it showed strong spending patterns during the Games. The company, an official sponsor of the Games, estimated cardholders spent more than $1.4 billion here during the past two weeks.

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