Beijing, Aug. 24: The Beijing Olympic flame went out atop the futuristic Bird's Nest in northern Beijing Sunday night, marking the conclusion of what International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge described as "truly exceptional Games".
The host nation basked in revelry as dazzling fireworks lit up the sky and worldwide athletes gathered together to celebrate the success of the Beijing Games. But a smack of sadness mingled with the jubilation when Rogge declared the closing of the Games and Beijing Mayor Guo Jinlong handed over the Olympic flag to Boris Johnson, mayor of London, host of the 2012 Games.
"I feel so sad I want to cry," said Wang Bin, a student from Beijing Language and Culture University and volunteer for the Games. "I really wish these 16 days could start all over again."
"Tonight, we come to the end of 16 glorious days which we will cherish forever," Rogge said in a speech at the closing gala. "Through these Games, the world learned more about China, and China learned more about the world."
The Beijing Games are a testimony of the fact that the world has its trust rested upon China, said Liu Qi, president of the Beijing Organizing Committee of the 29th Olympic Games (BOCOG). "The Chinese people, teeming with enthusiasm, have honored the commitments they solemnly made."
French handball player Daniel Narcisse was the last athlete to leave the Beijing Olympic competition venues Sunday afternoon, after his team beat their Icelandic opponents 28-23 to take the last of the total 302 gold medals on offer at the Beijing Games.
When all his teammates were gone, Narcisse lingered for a while on the field, reluctant to leave the National Indoor Stadium close to the Bird's Nest. The glory could be his last game.
Narcisse, who began playing at seven, encountered the Icelandic team in his debut in 2000. Back then neither Narcisse nor his team were as strong as they are today.
Now at 28, he will probably retire, after years of struggling with cartilage injuries, a world championship in 2001, and now a final Olympic title.
"You were true role models. You have shown us the unifying power of sport," Rogge said of the worldwide athletes to the Games. "The Olympic spirit lives in the warm embrace of competitors from nations in conflict. Keep that spirit alive when you return home."
The past 16 days has witnessed innumerable miracles, with legendary "Lightning" Bolt sweeping three gold medals on the track and Michael Phelps taking all his desired eight golds in the pool.
Their legends have exerted so much impact that, in the host nation alone, everyone has suddenly become interested in everything about Jamaica, the island country in the Caribbean Sea where Bolt is from.
Just type in Jamaica in Chinese at baidu.com, the leading Chinese search engine, and you will find nearly 10,000 matches, mostly about Bolt himself or his sport, sprint.
Meanwhile, American "superfish" Phelps has won so many hearts in China that avid fans are hooked to the Internet day in day out just to talk about him. Online chatrooms have been named "Phelps' posting bar" or simply "Phelpsians", the new coinage meaning unprecedented victory. Many insist the transliteration of his name, "Fei Er Pu Si" should be included in the Chinese dictionary.
Yet at the end of the Games, it is more than the stars and golds that are remembered.
Every Olympian is a hero, and the 10,000-odd athletes from 204 delegations will all be remembered for their painstaking to fulfill their own dreams, and to pursue the Olympic spirit "higher, swifter and stronger".
"We are reluctant to say goodbye," said an editorial to be published on the People's Daily on Monday. "For 16 days and 16 nights, we basked in the happiness and pride of the Olympiad... China's fulfillment of its centennial dream coincides with the world."
The Games have concluded, but the Olympic spirit is here to stay, thanks to the power, charm and perseverance demonstrated by worldwide Olympians.
When the time the Olympics open in London in four years and people look back at the Beijing Games, they will probably easily remember Bolt and Phelps.
We are not sure how many will remember Natalie du Toit, but the story of the South African amputee swimmer who completed the grueling 10-km open water race will certainly go down in Olympic history.
We are not sure whether former Chinese fencer Luan Jujie will compete again in London, at 54. But her comeback in Beijing is certainly a success story of testing one's own limits, though not necessarily winning a medal.
Our congratulations and thanks go to all the Olympians who have made the Beijing Games so much better, and left behind the sportsmanship and heroism that will inspire for many generations.