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Proud China brings curtain down on epic Games
August 24, 2008
The Beijing [Images] Olympics [Images] ended with a flash of fireworks on Sunday, bringing down the curtain on a Games that dazzled the world with sporting brilliance and showcased the might of modern day China.
The 16-day sporting extravaganza failed to quell criticism of China's human rights record, although the International Olympic Committee gave the organisers the thumbs-up and said the Games would leave a positive legacy for future generations.
Reflecting China's new found confidence, the nation's athletes took their gold medal tally on the final day to 51 after winning their first two Olympic boxing titles, the most any country has won since the Soviet Union in Seoul in 1988.
The United States finished with 36 golds, level with their table-topping haul in 2004, but way behind the host nation.
The US tally got a boost on Sunday when the men's millionaire basketball team beat Spain in a thrilling final.
There was emotion too for the American men's volleyball team, who beat Brazil [Images] to take gold and do their coach proud.
The father-in-law of coach Hugh McCutcheon was stabbed to death by a deranged man in Beijing on the first day of the Games -- a rare assault in the heavily policed Chinese capital.
In the final athletics race, Kenya's Sammy Wanjiru led an African sweep of marathon medals, lifting his arms in triumph as he sped around the Bird's Nest stadium for the last lap.
Hours later, 91,000 spectators poured into the same steel latticed stadium to see a golden crown of fireworks soar above the arena at the beginning of the closing ceremony -- the culmination of the most ambitious and expensive Games ever.
IOC President Jacques Rogge, who will officially close the Games at the ceremony, praised China for an "impeccable" operation that had set the bar very high for 2012 hosts, London [Images].
"The world learned more about China, and China learned more about the rest of the world," Rogge told reporters on Sunday.
Rogge said the IOC could not force change on a state "or solve all the ills of the world", but that the Games had promoted a heightened awareness of the environment in China and left an array of venues to nurture future champions.
He had less to say though when confronted with the tale of two women in their seventies, who were sentenced to a year's re-education for applying to stage a protest during the Games.
"The IOC is not a sovereign organisation and we have to respect Chinese law," he said.
The United States took a tougher line, pressing for the immediate release of eight Americans detained for staging protests in favour of Tibetan independence during the Games.
"We are disappointed that China has not used the occasion of the Olympics to demonstrate greater tolerance and openness," the US embassy said in a statement.
China's Communist leadership no doubt breathed a collective sigh of relief as the Olympics drew to a close.
The run-up to the Games had cast a harsh light on China, bringing unrest in its Tibetan region to a global audience and showing that its rulers would not brook internal dissent.
But over the past two weeks, Beijing has wowed the visiting world with its superlative venues, army of smiling volunteers, glitch-free transport and seamless organisation.
Fears about pollution evaporated as blue skies finally broke through the haze. Criticism of China's human rights record took a backseat as two athletes redefined sporting excellence.
Michael Phelps [Images] swam into the record books by winning an astonishing 8 gold medals in the translucent Water Cube. On the track, Jamaica's Usain Bolt [Images] captivated the crowds with three sprint gold medals, all secured in world record times.
LONDON WAITS IN WINGS
The Chinese spent a record $43 billion on the Games, and it showed. The budget for the London 2012 Olympics is three times smaller and the British are making clear they will not even try to emulate the Beijing epic.
Delighted after their best Olympic performance in a century that left Britain fourth in the medals table, Britain will celebrate the handover of the Olympic flag on Sunday with a street party outside the gold-tipped gates of Buckingham Palace.
Ordinary Chinese glowed with national pride at their achievement in staging the Games and at their athletes' prowess, coming in their thousands to gawp at the pharaonic venues.
However, in some parts of the city it was impossible to tell the Games were going on and Olympic veterans said Beijing lacked the international party atmosphere of previous Olympics.
But there was a United Nations feel to the sport, with a record 86 states winning medals against 74 in Athens, including, for the first time, Afghanistan, Mauritius, Tajikistan and Togo.
Showing the sporting extravaganza had lost none of its lustre, the Games also looked certain to become the most viewed in their 112-year history, with audience figures up between 20 and 30 percent on 2004 levels.
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