Beijing's final bow

Closing ceremonies are, traditionally, the moment when the Olympics let their hair down. Before tonight, it was not entirely clear that Beijing was capable of such a thing. If ever there has been a hair-up, button-down Olympics, it has been here.

That is not a bad thing, mind. You don’t have every single venue ready weeks before the Olympics with a “let’s party” sort of attitude. But volunteers’ affability notwithstanding, the Beijing Olympics have sometimes given the impression of Games managed with gritted teeth and an iron fist.

Where Athens was all ease and ouzo – and was a perfectly pleasant Olympics – Beijing has achieved by raw determination an Olympics the likes of which the world had never seen, both in scope and efficiency.

Yet if the opening ceremonies were intended to make this plain to all of us (which they did, emphatically), the closing ceremonies showed another side of China.

There was still that strain of the epic, in writhing, shiny suited men tethered to some steel tower of Babel. But as much as the opening ceremonies were masculine and martial in tone, the closing ceremonies were feminine and – dare we say it – fun-loving.

Beijing, it seems, can also throw a fairly decent party.

Many of the motifs remained – massive, never-ceasing movement, suits that lighted up like Christmas trees in the dark, and a near pathological desire to make anything not bolted to the floor fly. But there was no program here – no agenda to show the world the “real” China. It was less a statement than Cirque du Soleil, writ gigantic.

It was also a clear contrast to London, which, again, is not necessarily bad. It just appears as though the British are planning a production of “Rent” in four years’ time. But when you have David Beckham, what do you need 1,000 acrobats for?

In the end, the closing ceremonies are just that – an end – and they have been successful if they make you long for the two solid weeks of canoeing and table tennis that have come before.

As the ceremony drew to a close, the scenes of the past 17 days were projected, day-by-day on the façade of the stadium roof. Then they froze as the flame went out, and a single firework, like a sparkling tear, fell over the stadium.

There can be no doubt. China knows how to orchestrate an Olympics.

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