Olympic farewell focuses on positive The closing ceremonies included rock stars, figure-skating legends - and even the Russian team.

Posted: February 25, 2002

SALT LAKE CITY — Amid watching spectacular pyrotechnics and singing "Happy Trails," thousands of athletes from nearly 80 nations said goodbye last night to Utah and the 19th Olympic Winter Games at the closing ceremonies, marking the end of 17 days of spirited competition, judging disputes and tight security.

Despite the controversies - the unhappiness of the Russians, a judging scandal in pairs figure skating, and several doping incidents - the Games were judged to be a success on several fronts. The U.S. team enjoyed remarkable success by winning a record 34 medals, and Mitt Romney, president of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, credited the Americans with being good hosts.

"Clearly, these Games exceeded our expectations," Romney said. "The sports included great Olympic moments. Of course, along with that there were distractions - judging and doping issues - but I think these Games became a healing experience for those who got close to them."

As opposed to the more somber and serious opening ceremonies, last night's extravaganza of more than two hours at Rice-Eccles Olympic Stadium had more of a party flavor, complete with rock from Kiss, the mellow rhythm and blues of Earth, Wind & Fire, and other musical styles.

Bedecked in white, teal and purple ponchos, the crowd of 44,292 at the stadium on the University of Utah campus also starred on a frosty and breezy night, waving flashlights on cue and popping cameras to create a stream of flashbulbs through the show.

The night reached its climax with the extinguishing of the Olympic flame, which had burned since Feb. 7.

The Olympics had threatened to end on a sour note after the Russian delegation had vowed to boycott the closing ceremonies for what it said was unfair judging in pairs figure skating, biased officiating in hockey and other slights. But the Russians did show up and celebrated with athletes from the other 77 nations.

The crowd roared whenever an American athlete was shown during the medal-winner review on the video board, and rose to its feet when women's bobsled gold medalists Jill Bakken and Vonetta Flowers of the United States entered bearing the Olympic flag.

Security, as it had been the entire Games, was tight. Spectators had to pass through metal detectors and some were searched. Fighter jets and helicopters patrolled nearby.

Vice President Cheney, who attended yesterday's gold-medal hockey game between Canada and the United States, and his wife accompanied International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge and Romney into the stadium.

Interestingly, Romney departed from his prepared remarks so as to not mention the dominant controversy of the Games - the claim of a figure-skating judge that she was pressured to cast her vote in favor of the gold-medal-winning Russian team in the pairs competition, leading to a second gold medal being presented to Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier.

He had planned to say, "The Olympic spirit is a world audience cheering Russian and Canada pair skaters just like our hometown heroes." Instead, saluting Alpine skier Janica Kostelic of Croatia, Romney changed the paragraph to, "The Olympic spirit is a world audience cheering the Croatian sensation as she won three gold medals and a silver."

Rogge thanked the citizens of Salt Lake City, Utah and the United States, along with the abundant number of security personnel.

Brian Shimer, 39, who won his first medal - a bronze in the four-man bobsled - in the last race of his fifth and final Olympics, carried the flag of the United States into the stadium. Sale and Pelletier did the honors for Canada.

The flag bearers from each nation came out as a group, well after the athletes had marched informally - some with their own countries, others with new friends from other nations - and sat down in the end-zone seats beneath the flame.

The festive party included a mix of musical tastes, starting with an a cappella version of the national anthem by 'N Sync.

"An American Musical" presented the music of Diane Reeves, Gloria Estefan and Harry Connick Jr., along with Kiss (in full theatrical makeup) and Earth, Wind & Fire. Each musical selection was accompanied by figure-skating legends such as Dorothy Hamill, Katarina Witt and Kristi Yamaguchi.

The Olympic flag was handed over to Sergio Chiamparino, the mayor of Turin, Italy, the site of the 2006 Winter Games.

Joe Juliano's e-mail address is jjuliano@phillynews.com.

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