China has passed on the torch as Olympic hosts after a spectacular ceremony in the Bird’s Nest stadium officially closed the 24th Winter Games in Beijing.
Sunday’s ceremony, themed ‘One World, One Family’, brought to an end 17 days of sports action at a Games held amid both the coronavirus pandemic and disputes over the human rights record of the hosts.
Chinese President Xi Jinping was among the dignitaries in attendance but many western nations staged a diplomatic boycott of the Games while there was also the shadow of potential conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
Yet International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach told the athletes: “You overcame these divisions showing in this community we are equal.
“The unifying power of the Olympics is stronger than the forces that want to divide us. You give peace a chance.
“May the political leaders around the world be inspired by your example of solidarity and peace.”
One of the many video montages during the ceremony concluded with freestyle skiers Oleksandr Abramenko, of Ukraine, and Russian Ilia Burov embracing on the podium.
Bach also called on the international community to “give equal access to [coronavirus] vaccines for everybody around the world”.
Zhang Yimou, the renowned Chinese film director, was ceremony director as he was for the opening ceremony and both ceremonies at the 2008 summer Games in Beijing – the only city to have hosted both editions of the Olympics.
“The Olympic spirit could only shine so brightly because the Chinese people set the stage in such an excellent way and in a safe way,” said Bach.
“The Olympic villages were outstanding. The venues – magnificent. The organisation – extraordinary.
“The positive legacy of these Olympic Games is ensured.”
Bach did not say, as is common, that the Games were the “best ever” but that “with the truly exceptional Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 we welcome China as a winter sport country”.
Many of the athletes who participated in the Games, including a 30-strong Australian contingent, walked, masked, through the stadium in a ceremony which also included video recaps of the action and a handover to Italy’s Milan/Cortina, the next hosts of the Winter Games in 2026.
America-born Chinese freestyle skier Eileen Gu, who picked up three medals including two gold, received the biggest cheer among the athletes from an arena only half-filled due to coronavirus restrictions.
A ‘closed loop’ system operated throughout the Games and though a handful of athletes missed events or training through positive tests, there was generally little pandemic-related drama.
The closing ceremony centre stage was composed of 11,600 square metres of HD LED screens imitating “a crystal clear ice surface” throughout the whole ceremony.
As with the opening ceremony, there were no stars, professional singers, dancers or actors involved with all the participant students from schools or universities, or ordinary citizens from the Beijing and Hebei provinces which hosted the venues.
There were also medal ceremonies for the final cross-country skiing events with Norwegian Therese Johaug and Alexander Bolshunov of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) both receiving their third golds of the Games.