BEIJING The Olympics' closing ceremonies are never "celebratory" the way the opening ceremonies are. Despite the pageantry, there is always a bittersweet feel to the end of any Summer Games.
But for the people whose nation opened up in a way it never had before because of these Olympics, perhaps the feelings are even more pronounced. As one Chinese man who has been working at the Main Press Center put it, "Well it's over now, and I feel kind of ... what is the word? Depressed?"
It is a common sentiment for host countries, having done so much work to prepare for an event of such magnitude. The closing ceremonies here at the Bird's Nest featured a red double-decker bus symbolizing the "next stop" for the Summer Games: London. That city takes the torch understanding there are some things those Olympics most likely will not be able to do with the scope or efficiency that these Olympics did.
The consensus among U.S. athletes was that the Beijing Games were expertly run and very comfortable for the competitors, helping them attain peak performances.
"It was absolutely a dream come true," said Lori Chalupny, a St. Louis native on the U.S. women's soccer team. "I just tried to soak in every moment, and I had the time of my life. We played in four cities in China, and everywhere we went, the volunteers and fans went out of their way to make us feel like Olympians. We leave China with a special fondness in our hearts for the people of this country and these Olympic Games."
Chalupny's squad produced one of the 36 gold medals for Team USA, which trailed China's 51. The United States ended up with the most overall medals, 110 to China's 100, but the gold count was the host country's main focus.
To the degree that Olympics are defined by medal counts, the United States Olympic Committee officials point out that they do not ever want to undercut support for team sports, where only one medal is available, in favor of individual sports, where more medals can be earned. For instance, the men's and women's basketball success counts as two medals in the standings but represents 24 Americans going home with gold medals.
Still, now that China has jumped to the front of the gold haul with its best Olympic showing ever, USOC officials will look at what individual sports cycling, for instance the Americans may be able to gain ground in and produce more medals.
In terms of gender equity, the U.S. did very well: Both the men and women earned 53 medals each, with four additional medals in mixed sports such as equestrian.
The most successful sport for the Americans was swimming, which produced 31 medals, 12 of them gold. Gymnastics also was a highlight: 10 medals (two gold). Track and field had 23 medals (seven gold), but Jamaica's domination of the men's and women's sprints put somewhat of a damper on the meet from the American team's perspective.
Especially on the women's side, where among the 100, 200 and 4x100 relay, the Americans won just one medal. That was Allyson Felix's silver in the 200. The handoff flubs and subsequent disqualifications of both the men and women in the 4x100 relay symbolized a subpar Olympics from disciplines that normally produce well for the United States.
You may be surprised by which sport was the fourth-best medal-producer for the Americans. It was fencing, which got six medals, one gold. This despite the fact that the U.S. Fencing Association was so poorly run that the USOC essentially took over administration of the sport earlier this year.
As for how athletes with Kansas-Missouri connections fared, the term "disappointment" came up a lot. Former Missouri shot-put standout Christian Cantwell earned a silver, but he wasn't happy with his performance and thought the gold should have been well within his grasp.
Sprinter Muna Lee, a Kansas City Central graduate, was fifth in the 100 meters after an uncalled apparent false start by a teammate disrupted Lee's start. Then Lee missed a bronze in the 200 by one-hundredth of a second. Still, in both cases, Lee was happy with how she ran. Unfortunately, she never got a chance to compete in the 4x100 relay because the qualifying team dropped the baton.
Still, Lee said, "I can't wait," in regard to getting a chance to get in a full year's training with current coach Vince Anderson, whom she began working with in January. While Lee was upbeat despite not earning a medal, former Missouri wrestler Ben Askren was, in his words, "crushed" when he was eliminated after just two matches.
It remains to be seen if any of them still will be competing in London in four years.
Great Britain did get a boost toward its host status with its best performance in decades at the Summer Games. It was fourth in the medal count with 47, 19 of them gold.
With the 2012 Summer Games headed there, Great Britain clearly in recent years has elevated its Olympic sports programs. It has no hope of catching China, of course, in medal count four years from now. But if the British can stage the Olympics with favorable comparison to what China did, that in itself would be gold-medal worthy.