Olympics end in spectacular show

2008-08-25 00:00

"These were truly exceptional Games."

Those were the words of International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge in closing the Beijing Olympics last night.

The capacity-packed Bird's Nest was entertained with a spectacular splash of lights, colour, song, dance drumming and music from 19 composers, punctuated with numerous barrages of fireworks.

Rogge called on the athletes to continue the peace and unification that comes from sport, saying, "You are true role models. You have shown us the unifying power of sport. The Olympic spirit lives in the warm embrace of competitive rivals from nations in conflict. Keep that spirit alive when you go home."

The extravagant two-hour ceremony used over 4 000 costumes, 2 500 special lights and 300 tons of lighting equipment. Highlights of the past 16 days of competition were projected on to the massive screens of the Bird Nest's rim before the lowering of the Olympic flag, which was handed from Guo Jinlong, the mayor of Beijing, to Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, the Olympic city in 2012.

The extinguishing of the Olympic flame was the final feature of the Games. From aircraft boarding steps, the athlete transferred the flame to the 23-metre-high memory tower, which kindled lights among the 91 000 crowd. A massive eruption of fireworks followed at the stadium and in Beijing city above Tiananmen Square.

The remaining South African team members were led into the stadium for the closing by BMX rider Sifiso Nhlapo, one of the team's 15 finalists. Nhlapo was a medal hope to the team, but crashed in fifth place in the final.

The ceremony brought the curtain down on South Africa's least successful medal haul since Berlin 1936 when they also took home one silver medal - for boxing.

Khotso Mokoena, silver medallist in the long jump, arrived back in South Africa on Saturday and will be R500 000 richer thanks to the incentive money put up by Absa to be shared between the medal winners. As the sole medal winner in Beijing, across all sports, Mokoena will get the full pot.

Team SA, who fly from Beijing this morning, have drawn criticism from the public and the government back in South Africa. It is expected that they will face stiff questioning when they arrive at O.R. Tambo International at 7 am on Tuesday.

"It is important to put the performance into perspective and remember that this was a young team with a view to building to 2012," said Chef de Mission Hajera Kajee.

He confirmed that "there will be a full review and analysis of results when we get back to South Africa.

"We will also look at how we can improve and build on the athlete preparations going forward".

- Norrie Williamson's air flights sponsored by Allday EnerGIFoods Ð Constant Carbs are Key. www.energifoods.co.za.

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