Dream Finale

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 August, 2008, 12:00am

In a blaze of fireworks and national pride, a boisterous Beijing waved goodbye to the Games of the XXIX Olympiad last night.

Tears of joy. Sighs of relief. Pumping fists. Screams of exhilaration. A 17-day journey full of agony and ecstasy ended at the National Stadium, or 'Bird's Nest', in a glittering celebration that was a uniquely Chinese mosaic of song, dance and colour that exploded energetically against traditional 'auspicious cloud' motifs on the stadium's floor.

Almost 100,000 enthusiastic spectators and athletes packed the stadium to say farewell. They watched raptly as the Olympic flag was lowered, the flame extinguished and the flag passed to London, where the Games are set for 2012.

It was a climactic conclusion and a dazzling show of national pride for the host nation, which may have even shocked itself by scooping up a record 51 golds - well ahead of the second-place United States, with 36. China won a total of 100 medals in a dizzying array of sports - from gymnastics and diving to boxing and sailing. The Americans won the most medals overall with 110, however.

'[It's] a major historic breakthrough,' read a congratulatory message jointly sent by the top Communist Party leadership and the government. 'The motherland and the people are proud of you ... [you] have won immense glory for your country and people.'

The newly crowned world No 1 sporting power in terms of Olympic gold also claimed gold for putting on what International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge hailed as 'a truly exceptional Games'.

Some of the finest moments in the Games' 112-year history were cemented at Beijing's state-of-the-art venues, which saw the ushering in of two all-time Olympic greats. The sublime performances from American Michael Phelps in the pool and Jamaican Usain Bolt on the track ensured that the Beijing Games would go down as among the most memorable in Olympic history.

The Games also established a new world order in the Olympic medal count. Gone was the traditional battle for supremacy between the United States and former Soviet Union.

Most of the action in Beijing took place under blue skies - a feat achieved by the imposition of drastic measures by Games organisers. It remains to be seen whether the clean air is sustainable.

Despite their success, the Games were not free of controversy. The jaw-dropping opening ceremony was marred by revelations that the star child performer was lip-synching another girl's song. Meanwhile in the sporting arena, an investigation has been launched into allegations that some of the gold-winning Chinese women gymnasts are under age.

What hurt most for the country's most devoted sports fans was that hurdler Liu Xiang, China's biggest star, was forced to withdraw from competition because of injury.

Rarely has an Olympics been held amid such anxiety and apprehension. Tibet, Darfur, human rights, media freedom, pollution - the world had spent the spring airing its grievances with the host nation.

Whether or not the rest of the world agrees, China and the IOC both claimed that the Olympics have been a force for good. Dr Rogge pointed to heightened environmental awareness, greater enthusiasm for sport among Chinese and the new stadiums as the legacies for China.

The extra dimension in the 2000 Sydney Games was the hosting of the Olympics by a nation of sports lovers. The extra dimension in the Athens Games four years ago was Greece's Olympic culture and history.

The world is now waiting to see whether the Beijing Games will be distinguished by their ability to transform the country.