Olympic Diary (5): The Closing Ceremonies

We spent the day basically watching what was left–the Marathon, the Handball final (France over Sweden for the gold, a close match where France just had enough of a defensive edge), Volleyball (Russia over Brazil in a surprising but emphatic comeback), the Marathon (a surprise winner from Uganda). After the surprises of last night, particularly Tom Dailey, who had looked pressured in the tryouts, but who performed magnificently in the diving finals for a bronze medal.

So the medal total is roughly unchanged—the US and China way in front, but Britain 3rd in Gold and 4th overall, after Russia. 16 years ago, Britain won one Gold. How times change. And that’s certainly a large part of why everyone—well, nearly everyone—feels really good about the past two weeks. But it’s also because the events all went smoothly, public transport worked phenomenally well, and everyone who came to London now thinks it’s the coolest place in the world. It’s always nice to have some validation.

So now we’re sitting here watching the closing ceremonies. It’s a very different feel from the Opening Ceremonies, because, well, that was hello, this is goodbye. The field of the Olympic Stadium is now a gigantic British flag, with busses and cars and lots of dancing people on the streets, which are actually the bars on the flag from the blimp overhead. So far we’ve had Emeli Sandé, who sang that wrenching piece in the opening, bringing a lump to everyone’s throat (except NBC and Fox); Madness; some boy band; the cast from Stomp; an dance group called Spellbound; Timothy Spall as Churchill; a bunch of literary quotations buried on the stage (TS Eliot, Dr. Johnson, Keats); Ray Davies entertaining the crowd with Waterloo Sunset—in fact, getting all 80,000 to sing along; lots of waving the Union Jack; Prince Harry representing the Queen for the official close (Will is working, back at the day job of search and rescue helicopter pilot); some heartbreaking pictures of Olympic non-winners crying, which is what many do.

Then the flagbearers again, carrying their flags, just as they did 16 days ago. This is a neat group—many of the athletes were unable to attend their opening ceremonies because they were in training. Well, they’re here now. This is being photographed beautifully, because the colors of the flags are incredibly vibrant. And now the athletes—but the British ones are coming in through the stands, down the stairways, shaking hands with the crowds, with Elbow providing the music. The rest of the athletes are coming in through all the entrances to the Stadium. Quite a sight. Look at all those athletes, beaming away. Well, why not? They’ve just been in the most successful Olympics that’s ever been put on, the one to which all future Olympics will be compared. And they can now take a few weeks off, or longer after what has been a grueling several, if not many, years for most of them. They’ve worked hard—they deserve a huge party. My goodness, they’re still pouring in. And now the silver confetti. This is great. And still they come. Look, the Brazilians. They look pretty darn happy. And look, there are the Americans, being obnoxious. No surprise there. How many years will it take before America figures out it’s never going to host another Olympics again until it starts being nicer to the rest of the world? And they’re STILL coming in. There’s definitely going to be a party tonight.

OK, the flagbearers are now moving to their new positions, and now we’ve got something gong on elsewhere, with 303 boxes representing the 303 actual athletic events that took place the past two weeks, and athletic looking dancers climbing on the larger ones, and carrying the smaller ones. Symbolic, I’m sure, but neat visually. Ah, they’re building something with the boxes, I imagine something to represent aspirations. With lot of shots of athletes winning, praying, being thankful, all nicely done.

OK, we’ve now moved to the victory ceremony for the men’s marathon, the traditional final ceremony, in front of all the flagbearers. Again, a nice sight. And this means we’ll hear something that hasn’t actually been played at the Olympics for like four decades, since Munich, actually—the Ugandan national anthem. Kenya got the silver and bronze, btw. Wow, what a cheer for Stephen Kiprotich.

And now we get a nice thing—the four athletes who represent the rest of them are an official thank you to all the volunteers. This is cool. The amount of work the 70,000 volunteers have put in has been remarkable, and they’ve been everywhere–you couldn’t move in London this past two weeks without bumping into one or more of them. The next time London has the Olympics, I’m definitely volunteering. And it’s clearly one of the things that’s made this such a feel-good two weeks. What’s been fun has been reading the conversions of many of those who thought this was such a bad idea, and that Britain could never pull it off. This has been a cathartic experience for many, in any number of ways.

And now it looks like we’re moving on to what everyone has been waiting for—lots of British rock and roll. Well, music, more broadly, of the past fifty years. Now we’ve got the Kaos children’s choir (for both deaf and singing kids) doing John Lennon’s Imagine—and look, there’s John up there on the big screen, singing it as well. A nice gesture. OK, who’s this? This is where my not paying attention for the past several decades will start to show. Oh, wait, I can already tell from the song—George Michael doing Freedom. Weird guy, but a great song. Which many of the athletes seem to know, oddly enough, given how many of them are singing along. OK, he’s done. Who’s next? Well, the Kaiser Chiefs doing The Who—Tommy, actually. Pinball Wizard, to be exact. They’re riding mods and rockers motorcycles—nice touch. Look at the several hundred motorcycles. Well, not hundreds, it just seems like it. Jeez. So will we get the real Who? No, we’re getting David Bowie instead, apparently. Well, maybe not in person, but the music certainly sounds like him. Oh, wait, it’s a bit on fashion. This must be where Kate Moss makes her appearance. Well, Mrs. W assures me that British supermodels are famous worldwide, and who am I to argue the point. Time to go for a smoke.

OK, this is better—Annie Lennox in a pirate ship, although it looks vaguely like a leftover set from Les Mis or Moulon Rouge. Oh, it’s Little Bird, from Coppola’s film Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Huh? Ah, Stoker was British. Now I get it. Still got her chops, though, her ex-husband used to live across the street, and her (then) teenage daughters had a party that is still talked about on the street years later. The kids are eating up the songs, though. Now we’ve got Nick Mason and Mike Rutherford with some kids who I don’t know but presumably everyone else does doing Wish You Were Here, that Pink Floyd chestnut. What’s with the tightrope walker, though? Again, something symbolic that Mrs. W will probably have to explain to me later.

Oh, my goodness, it’s Russell Brand, singing about imagination, apparently having survived the marriage to Katy Perry with no scars. Oh, and moving right into I am the Walrus, with lots of 1960s-looking accoutrements and dancers. Which, of course, everyone in the stands at least knows all the words to. Of course, I’m not impressed by the fact that Brand is lip-synching. Nobody else has been. But the effects are great. OK, here’s Fatboy Slim, who play some dance music, because there are now about a thousand people on the stage dancing. I wonder what the athletes from Saudi Arabia make of this. The octopus is very cool, though. Hey, all these athletes are in great shape—I’m sure they can dance all night if need be. All the lights going on all over the place are pretty impressive. Now it’s Jessie J, of whom I cheerfully I admit I was heretofore unaware. But everyone seems to know her songs, which means something. Now it’s a duet with Tinie Tempah, from London’s east end, which of course is where all of this is taking place.

And now it’s Tiao Cruz, who at least I know of. All these singers are riding around in Rolls convertibles around the outer track of the stadium. And now all three of them are up on the stage, working it on out. Everyone seems to be loving this—as far as I can tell, everyone in the stands is on their feet (it’s dark in the stands to accentuate the light shows there)—it would be be pretty hard to be there and not be dancing, I have to say. And there’s this amazing sea of color around the stadium—this is quite the party. That was fun. Whatever next?

Ah, more taxis coming in. Could it possibly be? What we’ve been waiting for all evening? Yes! The Spice Girls! God, my daughters loved them. They look pretty much the same—slightly beamier, except for Posh, of course, but they’ve still got the moves. Most of them, anyway. Now they’re on top of the taxis, still singing. I like the fact that every time they’re a pan from the overhead camera, it picks up that great Dr Johnson quote, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” Having that juxtaposed on the Spice Girls is inspired.

Oh, boy, they’re really pulling out the stops. Now it’s Oasis doing Wonderwall. Actually, it’s only Noel. Or Liam. I can’t really tell which one is which any more. Good song, though, which the crowd is eating up. It looks like everyone in the stands, and all the athletes, know all the words to this one too. Why is this a song that the entire Canadian team knows the words to? Who knows.

OK, now we’ve got some early aviators or something, and early helicopter/bicycle things, and a cannon they are apparently preparing to shoot someone out of, all to Blue Sky. Ah, it’s a sketch, with Eric Idle getting ready to sing—yes, indeed—Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. Again, which everyone in the country knows the words, including all the athletes again—how does the entire Netherlands team know the words to this song? He’s got a bunch of nuns on roller skates skating around him while he’s singing. Now it’s roman legionnaires. Now its, I don’t know, gurkhas or something. This is great. This one brings the house down.

OK, back to what young people listen to, Muse in this case. He’s got flashing lights in his piano, and now he’s doing some guitar solo, with the entire 200 strong operatic chorus behind him. An acquired taste, I think. But as Mrs W points out, this is a concert for the athletes, not for the rest of us, and these are the songs they like. And how often does Muse get to Gabon, or Grenada? So, good on them.

Now it’s a film of Freddie Mercury. So we know what’s coming next, don’t we? Brian May. And there he is, hair getting greyer all the time, but doing really interesting things on the guitar, before he kicks into…something that just chugs right along. Just him, the rest of them don’t seem to be there. He’s wearing a coat that looks like it’s from the album cover of Sergeant Pepper. Oh, wait, there they are, and who’s the babe that’s stalking the stage? Wow, the Spanish team is loving this. And it’s Jessie J again, doing We Will Rock You. After hearing this 80,000 times the past two weeks, it’s still good to hear it again, with a bit of a change in the vocals. The entire stadium is singing along with this, and Brian is wailing away. Very cool. Followed by fireworks.

That seems to be it. Now we’ve got the traditional national anthem of Greece, who could use some love these days, and I hope they get it. Now the Olympic Anthem. I guess I didn’t know there was such a thing, but it sounds good—hokey, but earnest. Well, practically anything being sung by the London Welsh Choir is going to sound good. And the Olympic flag has just been lowered by some British military honor guard, and we’re on our way to closing this thing down. But not without a collective lump in the throat in the stadium, I imagine, and throughout the country. The crowd roars.

And now the handover, with the Mayors of London and Rio, passing the torch, but not before passing the flag first. The handover is complete, and Rio is now the official host city going forward. And here’s the national anthem of Brazil, which we’ve heard a couple of times the past two weeks. The Brazilian team looks very excited. And now everything goes dark as we await the Rio presentation as part of the handover ceremony.

We start with some dancing, and then a lot more dancing, and lots of drums, and then—a very, very tall singing girl, which turns out to be—well, we don’t know yet. Then lots of people with strange headgear. Lightbulbs seem to be a theme here—on hats, on backs, wherever. Several apparently famous Brazilian singers are involved here, but I, along with much of the British public, am a bit in the dark on them. Well, I’ve got four years to catch up. Lots more strange headgear now, and lots more drums. The costumes are wonderful, as is the lighting. And Pele just showed up, to the rapture of the crowd. Someone they recognize!

So that’s it. Sebastian Coe is coming up, along with Jacques Rogge, to turn out the lights. Coe thanks everyone, and it’s nice to see that the hugest roar from the crowd follows his thanks to the volunteers. It’s been just a great two weeks, it really has been, and no one really wants to see it end. But end it must. So the stadium goes dark, and the Olympic Cauldron unfolds, so it’s no longer all erect, but is back to its original shape, with the flames set to be extinguished. And there’s a large bird on top, with Take That providing the songs—there was some uncertainty whether Gary Barlow would be there, since he and his wife lost a baby earlier this week, but there he is. And now the bird—I assume representing a Phoenix—is lit up as well, a bright red, and it’s a stunning sight. And now some fireworks for good measure. Including fireworks from the top of the Kapoor sculpture. And here comes Darcy Bussell floating through the air, with 200 dancers from The Royal Ballet. They just don’t want this to end, and who does? It looks like some sort of Firebird motif, which would fit, since the flame is extinguished, and then reborn. God, I’m starting to sound like a BBC presenter. This also has a great light show. Whoever did the lights for this evening deserves a medal of his or her own. And there go the lights—the arms go down all the way, and go out when they finish their descent. All done now. The petals of the cauldron, all 204 of them, will each go back to one of the participating countries.

Actually, not yet, because here are The Who, doing Baba O’Reilly. Not sure who the drummer is—but there are Roger and Pete. Roger’s voice is not what it was, but Pete still has the guitar chops. Some things never change, thankfully. Wait, it’s a bit of a medley form Tommy as well. Well, that’s all right. Hey, more fireworks, and it’s My Generation. Again, which everyone knows the words to. And everyone’s on stage now—there’s Annie, there’s the rest of them and there are some really, really loud fireworks. And that’s it, finally!

OK, back to real life tomorrow.

Categories: Sports, World