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Closing Ceremony Caps Off A Dramatic, Bittersweet And Ultimately Uplifting Olympics

The Japan and Olympic flags fly as country flags are carried in during the closing ceremony in the Olympic Stadium at the Summer Olympics on Sunday in Tokyo.
The Japan and Olympic flags fly as country flags are carried in during the closing ceremony in the Olympic Stadium at the Summer Olympics on Sunday in Tokyo.

Updated August 8, 2021 at 7:33 AM ET

TOKYO – The closing ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics has started, wrapping up more than two weeks of athletic competition and the largest international gathering to take place during the pandemic.

The ceremony is celebrating the athletes and the organizers of the postponed Tokyo Games. The organizers say they're trying to let the athletes take a deep breath and relax.

Perhaps most poignantly, the organizers tried to use artistic elements to show the athletes a taste of ordinary life in Japan, something they haven't been exposed to due to pandemic restrictions.

And the Japanese organizers will ultimately pass the torch to the next city hosting a Summer Games – Paris.

A moment to relax, and move forward

After the heated competition of the Games, the ceremony organizers are trying to create an atmosphere of relaxation for the athletes and spectators, acknowledging that the "atmosphere was far tenser than usual."

And the athletes did appear relaxed, freely mixing with each other and dancing on the field as music played.

Of course, this event is happening in a stadium with only dignitaries and a small group of press in the seats. And the actual group of competitors present for the Parade of Athletes is much smaller that usual, because they were required to depart shortly after their competition wrapped up.

The organizers say the Closing Ceremony is celebrating the world coming together to make these Games happen, despite the enormous challenges.

Celebrating the last 17 days of competition

The ceremony kicked off with a video showing some highlights from the events of the Games, and fireworks lit up the sky. The scenes — across countries and sports — celebrated the efforts of all the athletes, not medals in particular.

A musical theater troupe performed the national anthem of Japan, wearing formal traditional Japanese dress in many colors.

Then, flag bearers from each country walked in all together, in a parade of colorful flags. The U.S. flag bearer is javelin thrower Kara Winger who was selected by fellow athletes.

When the athletes entered, they came together, streaming in from four corners of the stadium, waving flags and smiling to the cameras. They came in to the sounds of the "Olympic March," written by a Japanese composer and played at the 1964 Games in Tokyo.

Unlike the Opening Ceremony, when each walked in as a group with their compatriots, the athletes all walked in at the same time. According to the organizers, it's the first Closing Ceremony where the athletes all came in en masse.

Then, the shape of the Olympic rings formed over the field using lighting effects.

Bringing the athletes into Tokyo

The athletes have not been able to explore Tokyo during their time at the Games due to pandemic restrictions. For nearly 15 minutes, the field transformed into an "imaginary park in Tokyo," to try to give them the impression of being around a stylized version of ordinary life.

With the athletes walled off from them by cast members, actors did normal things you'd see around Tokyo, like ride bikes, play soccer, throw a ball around, dance or do yoga as a group.

A DJ scratched on turntables as breakdancers spun on stage.

The highly choreographed number was a bittersweet acknowledgement that despite a full competition schedule, the kind of cultural exchange that usually characterizes the Olympics was not possible for these athletes.

The Olympic flame burns prior to the Closing Ceremony in the Olympic Stadium at the Summer Olympics on Sunday in Tokyo.
Aaron Favila / AP
The Olympic flame burns prior to the Closing Ceremony in the Olympic Stadium at the Summer Olympics on Sunday in Tokyo.

The ceremony will also take a moment to remember and reflect on the difficult past year. It will also highlight various traditional festivals from around Japan, another way to show the athletes more about the country.

The program will end with a handover to the Paris organizers, and a preview of the Games to come there in 2024. Finally, the Olympic flame will be put out, officially drawing the Games to a close.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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