SALT LAKE CITY -- The Russians showed up. So did the South Koreans. After two weeks of scandal, Utah and America bid farewell to the Winter Olympics with a show of harmony and a collective sigh of relief.
The games went out with a flourish of Americana on Sunday night, an eclectic dose of Vegas kitsch with stars like Donny and Marie Osmond, KISS and Jon Bon Jovi highlighting the three-hour stadium party.
The colorful festival was a cathartic end to games that were troubled, exciting, wonderful and frustrating all at once.
"We were thrilled by your spirit of fair play and brotherhood," International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge told the crowd of 55,000. "Keep this flame alight. Promote the Olympic dream in your countries. You are the true ambassadors of the Olympic values."
Rogge also thanked the security forces that kept the games safe at the cost of about $310 million, a bill that increased following the Sept. 11 attacks.
"People of America, Utah and Salt Lake City, you have given the world superb games," he said. "You have reassured us that people from all countries can live peacefully together. Thank you."
Next, it's Italy's turn.
During a six-minute introduction to the northern Italian town of Turin, images of Ferraris, the Sistine Chapel and the Mona Lisa flashed onto the stadium floor while Italian pop star Irene Grandi sang the old Dean Martin standard, "Volare."
Most of the 2,500 athletes at the games paraded into Rice-Eccles Olympic Stadium and watched from the stands. Bobsledding bronze medalist Brian Shimer, a five-time Olympian, carried the American flag.
Draped in an American flag, Bon Jovi played, Harry Connick Jr. sang, and so did Earth, Wind and Fire and Gloria Estefan. Dorothy Hamill, Katarina Witt and Scott Hamilton skated.
At the end, the athletes came down to the stadium floor to mingle in the final gathering of 78 nations that came to Salt Lake City. It was a chance to forget the scandals, from the allegations of bribery involving Salt Lake City organizers to the judging controversy in figure skating.
Just a few hours before the closing ceremony, the IOC dismissed three skiers from the games for drug use.
The Russians and South Koreans had also threatened to boycott the ceremony to protest what they believed was unfair judging. But they were there to see the ceremonial passing of the Olympic flag between the mayors of Salt Lake City and Turin and the flame extinguished.
"I have mixed feelings at the end of these Olympic Winter Games," Russian IOC member Vitaly Smirnov said. "On the one hand, there were great victories. On the other hand, there were scandals, rules violations, judging problems."
Indeed, the games were far from perfect, but far from a disaster, either. The same could be said about the closing ceremony.
The Child of Light, urging everyone to "Light the Fire Within" throughout these games, made his final appearance. He skated with Hamilton, and later led the audience in a singalong of "Happy Trails."
Rogge watched much of the ceremony with Vice President Dick Cheney and Salt Lake Organizing Committee president Mitt Romney.
Rogge kept true to the promise that he would not call any Olympics "the best games ever," as his predecessor, Juan Antonio Samaranch, often did.
Still, the IOC and Salt Lake City organizers were happy and relieved. The games weren't tainted by violence, except for a minor disturbance downtown early Sunday. Traffic problems many people predicted never materialized.
When the speeches ended, Willie Nelson sang "Bridge Over Troubled Water," a quiet counterbalance to the glitz of the rest of the show.
Chris Klug. Sarah Hughes. Tristan Gale. Jimmy Shea. Ole Einar Bjoerndalen. Vonetta Flowers. All of them made history in their own way, and reminded the world that the Olympics are really about sports.
The Americans won 34 medals, shattering their previous record of 13. It still wasn't enough to put them ahead of Germany (35) in the total medal count, but these still were America's games.
At the opening ceremony, U.S. athletes carried the tattered flag from the World Trade Center into the stadium. Later, the American "Miracle on Ice" hockey team lighted the Olympic torch.
Long before that, the games were thrown into jeopardy because of the Sept. 11 attacks. A $310 million security effort turned this city, home of the Mormon church, into an armed fortress.
Even at the closing ceremony, the cuddly Olympic mascots Copper, Coal and Powder weren't nearly as visible as the unofficial symbols of these games -- police officers and metal detectors.
Still, it was a party -- irreverent, wild, rocking.
As the athletes left their seats and danced on the color-splashed stage, huge beach balls came down from the stands. The whole thing resembled a nightclub rave.
For the finale, a 4 1/2-minute fireworks display lit up the Wasatch Mountains edging the city.
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