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February 28, 2010
By Rod Mickleburgh
The Globe and Mail

Vancouver bids a reluctant farewell

Two weeks ago, Vancouver was the scene of nervous anticipation, a mixture of the possible and the unknowable.

Yesterday, this city, if not the entire country, seemed suddenly transformed: confident, unabashedly proud, revelling in the certainty of achievement.

Last night's closing ceremonies were about more than a glitzy gala, and the chance to celebrate Canadian athletes' record medal haul.

As VANOC chief executive officer John Furlong noted, the event was a chance to measure how far Canada has come in recent days, and how the Olympics has galvanized and changed the country in a way few other things could.

"I believe we Canadians tonight are stronger, more united, more in love with our country and more connected with each other than ever before," Mr. Furlong declared, bringing 60,000 spectators to their feet in a long, thunderous ovation.

"A beautiful kind of patriotism has broken out across the country."

The celebration during the 2010 Winter Olympics has been the spark for a national pride that is no longer quiet, but loudly, if politely, proclaimed, he added, comparing "the Canada that was with the Canada that now is."

Earlier, bronze medalist Joannie Rochette had entered BC Place waving the Canadian flag, setting aside her personal grief after the death of her mother, Therese, who passed away during the Games.

Ms. Rochette was a picture of perseverance in the face of tragedy -a fitting symbol of these Winter Olympics, which began with a shocking death on a luge run, but ended in a spirit of exuberance.

When Canada's Olympic athletes pranced and danced into the stadium last night during the Games' closing ceremonies, they mugged for the cameras and happily waved Canadian paraphernalia, with some sporting gold medals around their necks. Their relief at a job well done, after 17 days of intense, anxious competition, could not have been more evident.

Even with this new found Olympic swagger, Games officials were not afraid to direct a few jokes their own way before the eyes of the world.

In a marvellous piece of theatre, the ceremonies began with the appearance of a lone workman who emerged from below the stage to tow the missing fourth leg of the Olympic cauldron into place.

To roars from the crowd, torchbearer Catriona LeMay Doan successfully lit the flame. It was yet another example of VANOC's ability to respond well when difficulties arose, a key feature that made these Games so successful.

There were further roars when Mr. Furlong told the crowd that "we are Canadians now, more united and proud than we have ever been."

Referring to early troubles and the wildly successful conclusion to the Games, Mr. Furlong, addressing the world, said, "Now you know us, eh?" But there was an even greater ovation when the head of the Vancouver Organizing Committee talked about the country's first gold medal and "the last one that will be remembered for generations."

The next host city of the Winter Games, Sochi, also put on a lively, wonderful show, given the short eight minutes they had.

Gleaming round zorbs - singe-passenger rolling globes - circled the stage, while members of the Bolshoi Ballet and star opera singers brought a touch of high-class culture to the event.

But amid the celebrations, the death of young Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashviliv was not forgotten.

The audience rose in a resounding tribute to Mr. Kumaritashvili, after Mr. Furlong mentioned the sorrow felt by all Canadians over the athlete's fatal accident.

In his formal speech closing the Games, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge referred to the twin themes of grief and joy that prevailed during the Winter Olympics.

"Together, we have experienced many strong emotions," said Dr. Rogge. "We have shared the grief of an Olympic dream cut short ... e have shared the joys of dreams fulfilled. We have been moved by tears of elation and tears of disappointment."

And he praised VANOC for their "outstanding job" staging the Winter Olympics. "You have done it. You have won. These were excellent and very friendly Games."

At the end, few hearts were left untouched by the dishevelled, grand old man of Canadian rock, Neil Young, who, fittingly, performed Long May You Run as the official Olympic flame was slowly extinguished

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