VANCOUVER, B.C. — Mourning the death of an athlete, the 2010 Olympics started with solemnity and sadness.
Celebrating the most gold medals ever won by a host country and what they view as a wildly successful endeavor, the closing ceremonies were notable for their humor and light-heartedness.
The event started with the raising of the fourth leg of the indoor torch. A technical glitch kept it from rising out of the floor of BC Place during opening ceremonies and some saw it as a sign of trouble. Organizers were even asked what they would do to make up for the gaffe, which they felt was an insult to Olympic gold medalist Catriona LeMay Doan, who stood motionless, while the other famous torchbearers lit their legs of the cauldron.
As the lights dimmed, and the music started, fireworks sputtered from the hole where the fourth leg still lay down in the floor. Then a rubber chicken came flying out, complete with sound effects.
A suspender-wearing engineer pulled the leg up, much to the delight of the crowd, which screamed when Doan appeared center stage holding her lit torch.
She then ignited the cauldron and disappeared through the floor.
The organizers proved, they are nothing if not resilient and good humored.
"I believe we Canadians tonight are stronger, more united, more in love with our country and more connected with each other than ever before," said John Furlong, CEO of the Vancouver Organizing Committee, who has dealt with his share of problems, mishaps and tragedy during the past three weeks. "If the Canada that came together on opening night was a little mysterious to some, it no longer is. Now you know us … eh?"
Furlong acknowledged every difficulty, from the death of Nodar Kumaritashvili, a luge athlete from Georgia who died in a training accident before the Games began, to the weather problems at Cypress Mountain that forced delays and caused organizers to cancel nearly 30,000 spectator tickets.
"Alexandre (Bilodeau, mogul skier), your first gold medal gave us all permission to feel like and behave like champions," he said. "Our last one (hockey) will be remembered for generations."
Hosting the Olympics, he said, would hopefully inspire the world's youths to "grow up and experience the pleasure of sport."
After his comments, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge spoke briefly and declared the Games closed (to groans, as the crowd was too polite, too Canadian to boo).
Legendary Neil Young performed a song he wrote, "Long May You Run," and then the flame was extinguished.
The real party began after that with appearances by actor Michael J. Fox, who grew up in British Columbia, actress/writer Catherine O'Hara, a Toronto native, and actor William Shatner, who is a native of Montreal.
Their short, humorous-bits about being Canadian were followed by a cultural presentation on the country, complete with giant, inflatable beavers, moose and huge cutouts on rollers of Royal Canadian Mounties and hockey players.
The event concluded with a 30-minute concert featuring artists Michael Buble, Nickelback, Avril Lavigne, Alanis Morissette, Simple Plan and Hedley.
The ceremony also included a cultural presentation from the next host city, Sochi, Russia, that was stark contrast to Vancouver's send off.
While the Canada's cultural presentation poked fun at the country's unique habits — they say they're sorry a lot, and they're sorry they don't do it more — and embraced their quirks, the presentation from Sochi highlighted classical ballet and symphony music that indicated the country's plan to show off their culture, their grace and their sophistication four years from now.
And while most dignitaries politely waved from the suite of well-dressed, well-heeled VIPs, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper wore the now iconic red torchbearer mittens as he waved a Canadian flag from the dignitary section.
Vancouverites, in their final moment on the world stage, seemed bound and determined to show that they want to be known as patriotic, funny and friendly, as much as they are known for being earnest and polite.
"That quiet, humble national pride we were sometimes reluctant to acknowledge seemed to take to the streets as the most beautiful kind of patriotism broke out all across our country," Furlong said. "So many new, dazzling applications for the maple leaf, so many reasons to smile and be joyful."
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