Curtain Falls On Winter Olympics

Winter Olympics figure skating gold medal winner Sarah Hughes, 16, performing in the women's free skating event and then celebrating her win, Salt Lake City, 2-21-02.
After two weeks of scandal, the world bid farewell to the Winter Olympics with a final 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.

"People of America, Utah and Salt Lake City, you have given the world superb games," International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge told the crowd of 55,000. "You have reassured us that people from all countries can live peacefully together."

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.

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.

The Russians and South Koreans had threatened to boycott the final ceremony to protest what they believed was unfair judging. But they were there to see the flame extinguished.

Just a few hours before the closing ceremony, the IOC dismissed three skiers from the games for drug use.

"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."

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.

Next, it's Italy's turn, specifically the northern Italian town of Turin, where the next winter games will be held.

Most of the 2,500 athletes at the games paraded into Rice-Eccles Olympic Stadium on Sunday 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, Katrina Witt and Scott Hamilton skated.

Rogge watched much of the ceremony with Vice President Dick Cheney and Salt Lake Organizing Committee president Mitt Romney.

When the speeches ended, Willie Nelson sang "Bridge Over Troubled Water," a quiet counterbalance to the glitz of the rest of the show.

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 lighted up the Wasatch Mountains edging the city. It was a bright, bold finish to an Olympics memorable both in and out of the athletic arena.