The Tokyo Olympics, postponed and played out behind closed doors, ended with an upbeat closing ceremony, a spectacular light display and a message of hope – despite many Olympic champs being forced to watch on elsewhere.
The Games officially signed off on Sunday night, bringing an end to the most unprecedented and uncertain Olympic Games in recent history.
And Japanese organisers came through with many moments of remembrance, including traditional dances, powerful words, and an eye to Paris for the 2024 Olympics.
It was a stunted team of athletes there at Olympic Stadium but no shortage of spirit, as International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach called the Tokyo Olympics “Games of hope, solidarity and peace” amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The Australian flag was carried into the stadium by sailing gold medalist Mathew Belcher.
According to tradition, Mr Bach closed the July 23 to August 8 Summer Games in the presence of Japanese crown Prince Akishino and, speaking French, invited the youth of the world to the Games of the 33rd Olympiad in Paris 2024.
Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo received the Olympic flag in the Tokyo stadium, a giant flag was shown at the Eiffel Tower while French astronaut Thomas Pesquet played the final chords of the national anthem on a saxophone from the International Space Station.
The French capital has already staged the Games twice, in 1900 and 1924.
Viewers of the closing ceremony were left wondering how they did it, after a stunning arrangement of lights beaded down from the stadium and hovered above the athletes and performers, swirling to create the image of the Olympic rings in the sky.
Olympic organisers said the beads of light represented “the athletes in the stadium, and everyone in the world who could not be at the venues but spent the past two weeks cheering on the athletes”.
— A v i n a s h (@Black_Wayfarer) August 8, 2021
Breakdancers showed off their skills ahead of the sport joining the Olympic program in three years and French president Emmanuel Macron presented the modified Olympic motto “faster, higher, stronger, together.”
The French will hope that the pandemic has disappeared by then after the Tokyo Games were postponed last year and after long doubts and big reservations within Japan took place amid a strict hygiene concept.
“In these difficult times you give the world the most precious of gifts: hope,” Mr Bach said in his closing speech surrounded by athletes from all continents.
“For the first time since the pandemic began, the entire world came together. Sport returned to centre stage.
“Billions of people around the globe were united by emotion, sharing moments of joy and inspiration.
“This gives us hope. This gives us faith in the future,” Mr Bach said, speaking of “Games of hope, solidarity and peace.”
We are super excited for #Paris2024
— #Tokyo2020 (@Tokyo2020) August 8, 2021
Mr Bach thanked the Japanese organisers and the thousands of volunteers for an “unprecedented Olympic Games” and said: “You, the Japanese people, can be extremely proud of what you have achieved.”
Organising committee president Seiko Hashimoto thanked everyone involved in making the Games possible and that “our journey isn’t finished yet” with the Paralympics beginning from August 24.
Athletes from more than 60 of the 206 nations and teams competing at the Games were no longer present for the ceremony, according to the IOC – mainly because coronavirus rules made athletes leave within 48 hours after their competition.
Organisers said the concept of the ceremony in a park-like setting was to create “a relaxing environment in which the athletes can unwind” after “we had to overcome countless obstacles and resolve many conflicts to hold and open these Games amid the COVID-19 pandemic”.
From the bottom of our hearts ❤️
Thank you 🔥 pic.twitter.com/NVcUUPkfer
— #Tokyo2020 (@Tokyo2020) August 8, 2021
The victory ceremony for the marathons held in Sapporo was part of it all, a ska band and a DJ recreated an afternoon in a Tokyo park before dances from different regions of the country and the original dance from the 1964 Games in Tokyo which received a big applause from the athletes.
The ceremony concluded after the extinguishing of the Olympic flame with fireworks and the word Arigato (Thank You) displayed on the screen using the same font as in the 1964 closing ceremony.
– with AAP