VANCOUVER — An Olympics that began with the death of a luger ended Sunday with an exuberant celebration of Canada, reflecting a determined comeback by the host country's organizers and athletes.
A festive crowd of 60,000 jammed into BC Place Stadium for the closing ceremony, many of them Canadians abuzz over the overtime victory by their men's hockey team over the United States earlier in the day.
The gaiety contrasted sharply with the moment of silence at the opening ceremony Feb. 12 for Nodar Kumaritashvili, the 21-year-old Georgian killed in a training-run crash on the sliding track in Whistler hours before that ceremony.
Canadian officials ensured there would be some poignancy at the closing ceremony, selecting figure skater Joannie Rochette as their flag bearer. Her mother died of a heart attack hours after arriving in Vancouver last weekend, but Rochette chose to compete and won a bronze medal.
"Yes, it's been a tough week for me," she said before the ceremony. "But I walk tonight into that stadium with a big smile on my face. … I accomplished my goals, and I want to celebrate with my teammates."
Her team was greeted with a mighty roar when it joined the fast-moving, informal parade of athletes into the stadium. Among the cheerleaders was Prime Minster Stephen Harper, wearing a Canada jacket.
The U.S. flag bearer was Bill Demong, a veteran of four Olympics who won a gold and a silver medal in Nordic combined.
Canada, after a slow start, set a Winter Games record with 14 golds and sparked public enthusiasm in Vancouver that veterans of multiple Olympics described as unsurpassed. The Vancouver Organizing Committee struggled with a series of glitches and weather problems early in the Games, adjusted as best it could and reached the finish line winning widespread praise.
From the start of the closing show, there was a spirit of redemption. The producers made up for an opening-ceremony glitch in which one leg of the Olympic cauldron failed to rise from the stadium floor. Sunday, the recalcitrant leg rose smoothly, and former speed skating medalist Catriona Le May Doan — who missed out on the opening-night flame lighting because of the glitch — got to perform that duty this time.
Later came the traditional handover ceremony, during which the Olympic flag was lowered and presented to the hosts of the next Winter Games in 2014. Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson handed over the five-ringed flag to IOC president Jacques Rogge, who passed it on to Anatoly Pakhomov, the mayor of Sochi, Russia. That was followed by the Russian national anthem and a presentation about Sochi featuring opera, ballet and ice skating.