Page, Fireworks Pull Curtain on Olympics

BloombergPage
BEIJING -- 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 said the games were "truly exceptional" and would leave a positive legacy for future generations.

"You have shown us the unifying power of sport," IOC president Jacques Rogge told competitors packed in to the National Stadium.

"The Olympic spirit lives in the warm embrace of competitive rivals from nations in conflict. Keep that spirit alive when you return home.

"These were truly exceptional games."

Reflecting China's newfound 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.

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.

Rogge said the IOC could not force change on a state "or solve all the ills of the world," but that the games had promoted a heightened awareness of the environment in China and left an array of venues to nurture future champions.

He had less to say though when confronted with the tale of two women in their 70s, who were sentenced to a year's re-education for applying to stage a protest during the games.

"The IOC is not a sovereign organization and we have to respect Chinese law," he said.

The Chinese spent a record $43 billion on the games, and it showed. The budget for the London 2012 Olympics is one-third as much, and the British are making clear they will not even try to emulate the Beijing epic.

Britain's eight-minute chance to tell the world what the London Games would offer the world in 2012 featured guitarist Jimmy Page, who launched into the riff from "Whole Lotta Love."

He was joined in the Led Zeppelin classic by TV talent show winner and chart-topping singer Leona Lewis.

Queen Elizabeth also sanctioned a choral version of "God Save The Queen" backed by lush string arrangements.