Beijing doused its Olympic flame on Sunday night, closing a Games that will be remembered for the extremes of its anti-Covid-19 measures and outrage over the doping scandal that enveloped 15-year-old Russian skating sensation Kamila Valieva.
Chinese President Xi Jinping was on hand for the snowflake-themed ceremony at the Bird’s Nest stadium, where International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach described the Beijing Games as “truly exceptional” before declaring them closed.
The Beijing Games, contained inside a “closed loop”, were the second Olympics in six months to be deprived by Covid-19 of much of its festivity.
They were also stalked by politics, with several countries staging a diplomatic boycott over China’s human rights record, and the spectre of invasion of Ukraine by Russia, with President Vladimir Putin attending the opening ceremony in a show of solidarity against the West with Xi.
Still, China was spared any embarrassing protests by competitors over its treatment of the Uyghur Muslim minority or anything else, and the thousands of foreign journalists on hand were stuck inside the closed-loop, unable to report more widely.
Sunday night’s ceremony was capped by a 90-second fireworks display that spelled out “one world, one family,” followed by a rendition of Auld Lang Syne.
During the ceremony, Bach praised Beijing’s organisers and made a call for unity as well as universal access to Covid-19 vaccines. “You embraced each other, even if your countries are divided by conflict,” he said.“The unifying power of the Olympic Games is stronger than the forces that want to divide us: you give peace a chance.”
Bach was seated next to Xi during the opening ceremony, with space between them.
On one side of the stadium, which was roughly half full, red Chinese lanterns projected a glow as Olympic athletes entered en masse to Ode to Joy, dancing and taking selfies.
The Chinese team drew cheers that grew louder when San Francisco-born freestyle skier Eileen Gu, who won two golds and a silver for China, was shown on-screen.