London crosses the finish line with a smashing success

At the massive, musical, clever Closing Ceremonies, London takes a bow for a job well done

08/13/2012 12:00 AM

08/13/2012 11:25 PM

The London Olympics crossed the finish line with a rollicking, rocking celebration of just how great Great Britain truly is, especially with its newfound athletic muscle.

Who said the British were staid, stiff upper lip, keep calm and carry on — all that rubbish?

The Closing Ceremonies on Sunday night featured roller-skating nuns, Scottish bagpipers, nine supermodels, tightrope-walking businessmen and music from the Beatles, David Bowie, the BeeGees, Queen, Annie Lennox, Pink Floyd and The Who.

The show was cheeky, eccentric, clever, melodic, massive, absolutely fabulous.

Dancing, singing, hugging and mugging in the infield were thousands of athletes, congratulating each other on a job well done and relaxing after years of hard work and two weeks of performing under pressure.

The Games were a smashing success for the home team. Team GB, representing a nation of 62 million, finished third behind sporting giants in the gold medal tally. The U.S. regained superiority over China, collecting 46 golds and 104 total medals compared to 38 and 87 for the Beijing 2008 hosts. Great Britain wasn’t far behind with 29 and 65, improving its haul of 47 from four years ago and exceeding the average host-team increase of 13.

Prince Harry and sister-in-law Kate Middleton watched from the Royal Box as Russell Brand sang Pure Imagination from atop a psychedelic bus and Jessie J rode around in a Rolls-Royce wearing a skin-toned bodysuit. Alas, Queen Elizabeth did not parachute into the stadium as she did during the Opening Ceremonies.

But London Mayor Boris Johnson boogied to the beat, which will undoubtedly spur more support for him as the next prime minister. He oversaw the redevelopment of an industrial wasteland in east London, creating what is envisioned as a new, green, sports-minded town in Olympic Park.

Despite concerns that holding the Olympics in a dense, congested city would be a logistical nightmare, nearly everything went smoothly, with few breakdowns on the aging Tube system, no major security threats. Most surprising, almost no rain, either.

No nasty scandals, save for tanking by badminton players who were trying to improve their countries’ chances of winning.

Usain Bolt met his goal of becoming a living legend, winning three gold medals in convincing fashion and anchoring Jamaica’s 400-meter relay team to a world record.

Michael Phelps swam in what he swore was his fourth and last Olympics, winning six medals in seven events.

Gabby Douglas, a smiley 16-year-old, captivated judges and fans in winning gymnastics’ coveted all-around gold medal and leading the U.S. team’s “Fierce Five” to first place. Teenage boxer Claressa Shields won gold in the debut of women’s boxing.

Miami gymnast Danell Leyva won bronze in men’s all-around with a thrilling routine on high bar. LeBron James powered the U.S. basketball team to mostly wipeouts. Sanya Richards-Ross won two golds on the track.

British athletes competing in historic, iconic venues heard the loudest roaring from smitten fans: Distance runner Mo Farah, heptathlete Jessica Ennis, boxer Nicola Adams, sailor Ben Ainslie, cyclists Bradley Wiggins, Victoria Pendleton, Chris Hoy, diver Tom Daley, rowers, equestrian riders.

The plan is for their triumphs and the Olympic investment of $15 billion to “inspire a generation” in a country pessimistic about its economy and increasingly sedentary lifestyle.

But only joy accompanied A Symphony of British Music, two weeks after the Games opened with Isles of Wonder.

There was homage to John Lennon in a version of Imagine remastered by Yoko Ono at Abbey Road Studios. Monty Python’s Eric Idle turned his rendition of Always Look on the Bright Side of Life into a sing-along.

From a parade of black taxis emerged the Spice Girls, including Victoria “Posh” Beckham, whose husband David was sadly not selected for Great Britain’s Olympic soccer team but who was a constant presence here from the start, when he delivered the torch via speedboat on the Thames.

The producer of the Closing Ceremony described the Opening as a wedding and his extravaganza as the reception. It was a party arrayed on a Union Jack design during which athletes, volunteers and fans blew off steam in sync with exploding fireworks and torrents of confetti with waves of light flowing around the stadium.

Johnson made the traditional handoff of the Olympic flag to the mayor of the city that will succeed London as host in 2016, Eduardo Paes of Rio de Janeiro.

Then, a taste of Brazil — samba, Copacabana, Capoeira and a welcoming salute from Pelé. Brazil will be the first South American country to hold the Olympics.

The Who’s Roger Daltrey and Pete Townsend performed as video snapshots of Olympic volunteers and the country’s marvelously diverse residents flashed on the big screen.

The stems of the flaming cauldron bent downward. Each team will take home one of the petals.

“For the third time in Olympic history, London was entrusted with hosting the Games and once again, we have shown ourselves worthy of that trust,” said Seb Coe, Olympic gold medalist of the 1980s, former Tory MP and the driving force behind London’s bid. “I said that our Games would see the best of us. When our time came, Britain, we did it right. Thank you.”

Hear, hear.

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