The Beijing 2022 Games draw to a close as the torch is passed to Milano-Cortina 2026

Part of the closing ceremony acknowledged all the volunteers who helped to make the Beijing Games possible

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2022 Beijing Olympics - Closing Ceremony - National Stadium, Beijing, China - February 20, 2022. General view of performers during the closing ceremony. REUTERS/Aleksandra Szmigiel
2022 Beijing Olympics - Closing Ceremony - National Stadium, Beijing, China - February 20, 2022. General view of performers during the closing ceremony. REUTERS/Aleksandra Szmigiel

BEIJING — The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games closed Sunday night, but the “closed loop” for which it will be remembered remains open — at least to people with the proper credentials.

The Paralympic Games start next month and will use many of the same venues.

Beijing organizers promised Games that were “safe, simple and splendid,” and the Closing Ceremony was all of those things plus “short” slated for one hour and 20 minutes, although going 20 minutes over.

As media and a surprisingly large crowd of spectators filed into the Bird’s Nest stadium, they saw the snowflake cauldron suspended by wires, the flame still looking like a candle.

2022 Beijing Olympics - Closing Ceremony - National Stadium, Beijing, China - February 20, 2022. A snowflake and national flags are seen during the closing ceremony. REUTERS/David W Cerny
2022 Beijing Olympics - Closing Ceremony - National Stadium, Beijing, China - February 20, 2022. A snowflake and national flags are seen during the closing ceremony. REUTERS/David W Cerny

The Opening Ceremony coincided with the Chinese New Year. The Closing Ceremony picked up the thread of the “Story of a Snowflake.” Children used Chinese lanterns to light up the emblem inspired by the Chinese character for “Winter.”

The snowflake is composed of the names of the 91 competing nations which brought 2,900 athletes.

Xi Jinping, the president of China, and Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) were introduced to hearty applause by hand and with red “clackers.”

Giant skates carried children in a dance inspired by the 12 Chinese zodiac signs, such as tiger, rabbit, ox and dog.

2022 Beijing Olympics - Closing Ceremony - National Stadium, Beijing, China - February 20, 2022. Fireworks explode over the National Stadium, during the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics closing ceremony. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
2022 Beijing Olympics - Closing Ceremony - National Stadium, Beijing, China - February 20, 2022. Fireworks explode over the National Stadium, during the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics closing ceremony. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

The same red Chinese knot pattern seen in the Opening Ceremony appeared to herald the entrance of the athletes. The knot symbolizes the connection of China with the world, as well as the Olympic spirit of “Together.” Using augmented reality technology, the knot appears to hang in the sky to the television viewers.

Unlike the Parade of Nations from the Opening Ceremony, only one flag bearer from each nation entered in two streams of flags. The athletes flowed out to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” but mainly stuck to their own countries. They then mingled on the field, a giant LED surface, some playing Ring Around the Rosie as the announcer implored them to take their seats.

Some wore brand new accessories they’d picked up in Beijing — their Olympic medals. Members of the audience held lanterns to greet the athletes.

2022 Beijing Olympics - Closing Ceremony - National Stadium, Beijing, China - February 20, 2022. Fireworks explode over the National Stadium, during the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics closing ceremony. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
2022 Beijing Olympics - Closing Ceremony - National Stadium, Beijing, China - February 20, 2022. Fireworks explode over the National Stadium, during the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics closing ceremony. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

Due to COVID-19 countermeasures which required athletes return home within 48 hours after their competitions, at least 30 of the flags were carried by volunteers because there was no one from that country left in Beijing.

During the closing ceremony, IOC President Thomas Bach made sure to highlight those athletes affected by the pandemic.

“We share this Olympic spirit with all the athletes who because of the pandemic could not make their dream come true,” Bach said. “It breaks our hearts that you could not be with us, but you belong and always will belong to the Olympic community.”

“If we want to finally overcome this pandemic, we must be faster, we must aim higher, we must be stronger – we must stand together.”

“In this Olympic spirit of solidarity, we call on the international community: give equal access to vaccines for everybody around the world.”

The absence of a formal athletes’ parade is one factor making the concluding ceremony much shorter than the opener.

However, at least it wasn’t as bitterly cold as it was 16 days earlier, with the temperature just below freezing as the ceremony began.

2022 Beijing Olympics - Closing Ceremony - National Stadium, Beijing, China - February 20, 2022. Volunteers are pictured during the closing ceremony. REUTERS/Aleksandra Szmigiel
2022 Beijing Olympics - Closing Ceremony - National Stadium, Beijing, China - February 20, 2022. Volunteers are pictured during the closing ceremony. REUTERS/Aleksandra Szmigiel

Just like with the extravaganza on February 4, Sunday’s participants are “ordinary people,” according to organizers. Many are students, the same as the volunteers who cheerfully stood in the cold to direct people to buses or reminded them to pull up their masks.

Then a highlights video, called 2022 and Me, showed a compilation of medal-winning moments.

The victory ceremonies for the cross country skiing women’s 30km mass start free event and men’s 50km mass start free event were held, giving those six lucky athletes the chance to exult in their medals in front of a large crowd.

Volunteers earned special recognition during the ceremony, and received lanterns from Martin Fourcade, the five-time Olympic champion who is a new member of the IOC Athletes’ Commission. That’s because every volunteer “uses their light to bring joy to others,” organizers said.

Another highlight film called “Powered by Belief,” with the soundtrack of “You Can Get It” by Arkells, featuring K. Flay, followed.

Then came a somber segment, the “moment of remembrance.” In ancient China, when two dear friends part, they traveling party receives a willow twig as a gift. The breaking of the willow also is an expression of longing for family or brothers in arms.

The return of spring makes the stadium floor green, and symbolizes the turn of winter, the pandemic, into a blossoming springtime.

2022 Beijing Olympics - Closing Ceremony - National Stadium, Beijing, China - February 20, 2022. Beijing Mayor Chen Jining hands over the International Olympic Committee flag to International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach as Guiseppe Sala, Mayor of Milano city looks on during the closing ceremony. REUTERS/Aleksandra Szmigiel
2022 Beijing Olympics - Closing Ceremony - National Stadium, Beijing, China - February 20, 2022. Beijing Mayor Chen Jining hands over the International Olympic Committee flag to International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach as Guiseppe Sala, Mayor of Milano city looks on during the closing ceremony. REUTERS/Aleksandra Szmigiel

The Flag handover ceremony was followed by a segment by the next Winter Games host, Milano-Cortina, titled “Duality, Together.”

Milano-Cortina brought out some star power for the Italian national anthem with Malika Asante, a top contemporary Italian pop singer, and violinist Giovanni Andrea Zanon.

The extinguishing of the flame again brought back references to Beijing 2008, the first Olympic Games held in China, with the reveal of the Olympic Rings. As a children’s choir sang about the snowflake, the the flame slowly faded, triggering all of the NOC flags to light up. That signifies the way the Olympic spirit lights up the world.

2022 Beijing Olympics - Closing Ceremony - National Stadium, Beijing, China - February 20, 2022. Fireworks explode during the closing ceremony. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
2022 Beijing Olympics - Closing Ceremony - National Stadium, Beijing, China - February 20, 2022. Fireworks explode during the closing ceremony. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

But what truly lit up Beijing was the 90-second fireworks show, beginning with the Olympic Rings, just as it happened in 2008.

“One World, One Family,” was spelled in both English and Chinese, then a dance of golden dragons was displayed with low-altitude fireworks. And then a halo in the sky makes the final farewell as performers sang “Auld Lang Syne.”

In the end, Bach had nothing but praise for Beijing and China.

“This unforgettable experience was only possible because of our gracious hosts, the Chinese people,” he said. “With over 300 million people now engaged in winter sports, with the great success of the Chinese athletes, the positive legacy of these Olympic Winter Games is secured. With the truly exceptional Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics we welcome China as a winter sport country.”