NAGANO - The games of peace and love ended with singing, dancing and countless bursts of fireworks that lit up the Japanese night.
After 16 days the Winter Olympics drew to a close Sunday, and it seemed like no one in the stadium wanted it to end. After the last gold medal was awarded, the fireworks spent and the Olympic flame and traditional bonfires extinguished, the athletes and fans stayed in the stadium, refusing to let the feeling end.
There were reasons for just about everyone to celebrate. The organizing committee did a superb job of running the Olympics. Huge crowds turned out to watch spectacular performances. The U.S. team won a record number of medals. And the home team had many memorable performances. They won 10 medals, including gold in the team ski jumping for the first time.
On the final day the Czechs beat the Russians for the men's hockey gold medal, 1-0. Norwegian cross-country superstar Bjorn Dahlie added an eighth gold medal to his record-breaking total.
Except for some bad manners by the U.S. hockey team and some marijuana traces found in the doping sample of a Canadian snowboarder, the Nagano Games reflected the character of the Japanese people: polite, obliging and dignified.
Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the International Olympic Committee, praised the Japanese organizers for having the "best organization."
The only thing the Japanese couldn't control was the weather, as snow, rain, more snow and more rain forced postponements and cancellations of events. But not even an earthquake could derail these Olympics.The closing ceremonies were a celebration by the athletes of all the successes of the Olympics. The athletes marched in together informally and spent the evening talking to each other, hugging and waving to the crowd. Figure skating gold medalist Tara Lipinski came into the stadium on the shoulders of a bobsledder.
Women's hockey captain Tammi Granato carried the U.S. flag, while some members of the U.S. team carried a banner inviting everyone to the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002. "Thank you, Nagano," it said. Earlier in the day Wheaties announced the women's hockey team would appear on its cereal box, continuing a tradition of Olympic champions.
As the opening ceremonies had a dignified beauty, the closing ceremonies were more relaxed and marked with fireworks and lasers. Everyone had fun, even emperor Akihito, who grinned and clapped his hands over his head as the Japanese delegation walked by.
The formal program included traditional Japanese flutes and drums, emphasizing local culture through hometown festivals. It also combined traditional and modern, East and West, as Snowlets joined lion dances, harvest festival rituals and bonfires.
The audience joined the show when they were asked to turn on battery-operated lanterns given to them and hold them overhead. The only other light came from the Olympic flame and four traditional Japanese bonfires in the center of the stadium. Finally the fireworks built with ancient Japanese techniques lit up the sky.
Nagano Mayor Tasuku Tsukada gave the Olympic flag to Salt Lake City Mayor Deedee Corradini. She will take it back home where it will fly over the site of the next Winter Games in 2002. Later, a group from Utah circled the arena with a stagecoach and riders on horseback to give everyone a taste of the west and what they might expect at the next Winter Olympics might hold.
Then more handmade fireworks were set off, followed by the Snowlets theme song, "Ile Aiye" or "Let's Make a Circle and Dance." Everyone in the stadium was invited to sing and dance along, and just about everyone did. Then it was time to go home, but no one wanted to, as thousands lingered long in to the night.