Tokyo, Aug 8: In between an unrelenting virus and an approaching typhoon, the extraordinary Tokyo Olympics drew to a close on Sunday, having oscillated between trials and triumphs with an unprecedented show of hope and tenacity.
With a large firework display adding a burst of sound to the dancing, singing and merry-making, the Japanese capital pulled the curtains down on one of history's most unique Games, handing over the flag to Paris with the message of moving forward while remembering those who lost their lives during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the global health crisis, the one-year delay, the soaring costs and strongly divided opinions among locals, the spectacle saw the light of the day after staving off numerous challenges on the way.
In sync with the time he is living in, International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach, after closing the Games, said, "Athletes went faster, went higher and were stronger because they all stood together in solidarity. You inspired us with this unified symbol of sport. And it was even more remarkable because of what you faced in the pandemic."
Bach, without whom the Games wouldn't have happened, added, "For the first time since the pandemic, the world came together. People were united by emotion, sharing moments of joy and inspiration. This gives us hope, this gives us faith in the future.
"The Olympic Games of Tokyo were the Olympic Games of hope, solidarity and peace. You the Japanese people can be extremely proud of what you achieved. On behalf of all the athletes we say thank you Tokyo, thank you Japan."
The festivities began in front of the athletes, dignitaries and officials from across the world after the Japanese flag was raised at the 68,000-seater National Stadium, which was out of bounds to spectators owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. The athletes entered the stadium and formed a circle around the rostrum.
Unlike the opening ceremony which is a formal affair with the athletes dressed in formal attire, the closing was a time for the achievers to relax and enjoy the occasion. A sizeable number walked in holding their mobile phones to capture the moment and some waved flags while wiping sweat on a humid Tokyo evening.
The theme of the closing ceremony was the 'Worlds We Share' and featured a whole lot of items, from lights to music shows, dazzling fireworks and stunts.
Before extinguishing the Olympic flame that has been burning in the cauldron since the opening ceremony, the closing of the Tokyo 2020 Games broke away from history and propelled hundreds of millions of viewers right into the very heart of Paris.
For the first time in a handover ceremony, the next host country's national anthem was broadcast as a film shot entirely in the future host city. In another first, the closing ceremony featured live and spectacular celebrations from the next host city as the people of Paris and France embraced their role as host of the 33rd Olympics.
The segment took hundreds of millions of viewers on a tour of Paris and treated them to a deep dive into the City of Lights to the tune of a re-orchestrated version of La Marseillaise. The musicians performing in six different spots in and around Paris evoked what the world has experienced over the past several months.
The message was, "we are apart, we can join forces and play together." The Governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike, handed the Olympic Flag to Bach who, in turn, passed it on to the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo.
"I would like to express my feelings of gratitude and respect to all the athletes, and to everyone else who overcame so many difficulties to so thoroughly prepare for these Games and deliver their absolute best performances," said Tokyo Olympics organising committee president Seiko Hashimoto.
Bach presented Kenya's Peres Jepchirchir with the gold medal for women's marathon event, while Eliud Kipchoge received his yellow metal for winning the men's marathon. Lights illuminated the Tokyo sky and then formed the Olympic rings, with fireworks going off to make it spectacular.
Due to the coronavirus protocols, the ceremony was held without spectators but the organisers put up a screen inside the stadium where fan videos from across the world were projected. With bronze-winning wrestler Bajrang Punia as its flag-bearer, the largest Indian contingent bid the Games a goodbye after finishing their campaign with the best medal tally in history.
The handover was characterised by audacity and freedom as it highlighted Paris' promise to take sport out of its traditional spaces, to open the Games to the city and its people, and to connect with new audiences in new ways.
One of the many unique aspects of this ceremony was that unlike at past Olympics, where only Games volunteers (field cast) were recognised, Tokyo 2020 recognised both the Games and City volunteers. The volunteers to be recognised were selected with an eye towards balancing representation of genders, ages, and other factors, in order to embody the diversity of all volunteers.
Six field cast members and two city cast members (one who volunteered in Tokyo and one who volunteered in Fukushima) were recognised on behalf of all the volunteers.
In appreciation of all volunteers and their collective contribution to the Games, flower bouquets identical to those presented to the medal-winning athletes at victory ceremonies were given to a representative group of eight.
The ceremony opened with a video that looked back on the 17 days of events and competition. Fireworks went off at the stadium to mark the beginning of the final chapter in which the organisers "expressed gratitude for the countless individuals who lent us their strength and helped us make it to the Closing Ceremony."
This was followed by Japan's Crown Prince Akishino and the International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach making an appearance in the official stand.
The focus of the opening video was not records and scores but the valiant efforts of all the athletes, who competed in a strictly enforced bio-bubble, undergoing daily COVID-19 tests.
The salient message of the ceremony was that the Games will open the door to a brighter future. India certainly could look towards that brighter future after claiming its best ever haul of seven medal, including their first gold medal in 13 years, from javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, who is also going back as the country's first track-and-field medallist at the Games The country's haul also had two silver and four bronze medals.
The USA topped the medals tally with 113 podium finishes, including 39 gold, while China came second with 88 podiums that comprised 38 golds. Hosts Japan finished a creditable third with a totals of 58 medals, including 27 gold.