Beijing, Aug 24: The Beijing Olympics ended with a flash of fireworks on Sunday, bringing down the curtain on a Games that dazzled the world with sporting brilliance and showcased the might of modern day China.
The 16-day sporting extravaganza failed to quell criticism of China's human rights record, although the International Olympic Committee (IOC) gave the organisers the thumbs-up and said the Games would leave a positive legacy for future generations. Reflecting China's new found confidence, the nation's athletes took their gold medal tally on the final day to 51 after winning their first two Olympic boxing titles, the most any country has won since the Soviet Union in Seoul in 1988.
The United States finished with 36 golds, level with their table-topping haul in 2004, but way behind the host nation. The U.S. tally got a boost on Sunday when the men's millionaire basketball team beat Spain in a thrilling final.
There was emotion too for the American men's volleyball team, who beat Brazil to take gold and do their coach proud. The father-in-law of coach Hugh McCutcheon was stabbed to death by a deranged man in Beijing on the first day of the Games -- a rare assault in the heavily policed Chinese capital.
In the final athletics race, Kenya's Sammy Wanjiru led an African sweep of marathon medals, lifting his arms in triumph as he sped around the Bird's Nest stadium for the last lap.
Hours later, 91,000 spectators poured into the same steel latticed stadium to see a golden crown of fireworks soar above the arena at the beginning of the closing ceremony -- the culmination of the most ambitious and expensive Games ever.
IOC President Jacques Rogge, who will officially close the Games at the ceremony, praised China for an "impeccable" operation that had set the bar very high for 2012 hosts, London.
"The world learned more about China, and China learned more about the rest of the world," Rogge told reporters on Sunday.