LONDON, England August 13 – Athletes streamed out of London on Monday after two weeks of spectacular Olympic sport closed in a blaze of colour and music that turned the world’s attention to the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Olympics President Jacques Rogge praised the Games as “happy and glorious” before London bade farewell with a three-hour extravaganza of British music that electrified the host nation and billions of viewers around the globe.
Rock band The Who closed out the concert after The Spice Girls, George Michael, Brazilian football legend Pele and a cast of more than 4,000 entertained a packed crowd of 80,000 at Olympic Stadium on Sunday night.
“Through your commitment to fair play, your respect for opponents, and your grace in defeat as well as in victory, you have earned the right to be called Olympians,” Rogge said. “These were happy and glorious Games.”
Record-breaking sprinter Usain Bolt and swimmer Michael Phelps lit up Olympic Park, a former industrial site, and Jessica Ennis led an unexpectedly high number of British champions who kept fans’ excitement at fever-pitch.
The United States topped the medals table with 46 golds, eight ahead of China, while Britain had 29 — their best since 1904. It was the first Games where every team had at least one female athlete.
The ceremony also saw the handover of the Olympic flag to the mayor of Rio, a symbolic transfer which launches the four-year countdown to the 2016 Games to be held in the Brazilian city.
Rio gave a taste of what to expect with a swinging samba section in the London closing ceremony that included Pele and a host of carnival-style dancers.
On Monday London’s Heathrow Airport said 6,000 of the 10,000 athletes at the Games were expected to travel through a specially constructed Games terminal on the busiest single day for Olympics arrivals or departures.
The terminal is dressed like a London park with plants, benches, trees and fake grass.
“We want to continue the feel-good factor of the Games at the airport on our busiest day for departing athletes,” said Colin Matthews, chief executive of Spanish-owned airport operator BAA.
After 16 full days of competition, 302 Olympic titles were handed out and 46 world records were broken. More than seven million fans came out to watch Olympic events, and Bolt’s 200m win generated a record 80,000 tweets a minute.
“Today was the closing of a wonderful Games in a wonderful city. We lit the flame and we lit up the world,” said Games chief Sebastian Coe.
Prime Minister David Cameron received congratulations from US President Barack Obama, who called him to praise the organisation and the performance of the British team.
Cameron said the Games had reflected the best of Britain’s multicultural make-up, taking the example of Mo Farah, the winner of the men’s 10,000 title who went on to claim gold in the 5,000m on Saturday.
Farah came to Britain as a refugee aged eight after spending his early years in Somalia and Djibouti.
“Over the past couple of weeks, we have looked in the mirror and we like what we have seen as a country,” Cameron said.
Former prime minister Tony Blair, who was in office in 2005 when London won the bid to host the Olympics, said the Games had been a “spectacular success” but urged the current government to build on the legacy.
Britain’s newspapers on Monday reflected the country’s new-found pride but also betrayed a tinge of sadness that the Games were over.
“Thanks, it’s been a blast,” said the Daily Telegraph over a picture of the giant Union Jack that covered the floor of the Olympic stadium during the closing ceremony, while the Guardian bade “Goodbye to the Glorious Games”.
The final day of sport saw 15 medals decided, with the United States’ Dream Team wrapping up victory over Spain in the basketball final as the Americans cemented their place on top of the medal table ahead of China.
The last day started in traditional style with the men’s marathon, with Stephen Kiprotich delivering only Uganda’s second ever Olympic gold medal in a race that finished in the shadow of Buckingham Palace.
Anthony Joshua handed Britain the perfect end to the Olympic boxing tournament with his super heavyweight triumph to win Britain’s 29th gold.
International media also praised the London Olympics, with Australian newspapers saying it was on a par with the 2000 Sydney Games, which are widely considered one of the best ever.
“London, you didn’t half do a decent job,” the Sydney Morning Herald said in an online comment piece.