After 16 days of exhilarating sporting competition, the XXIII Olympic Winter Games reached their climax with a spectacular Closing Ceremony, as night fell on PyeongChang on 25 February 2018.
The atmosphere was one of joy and celebration, as a packed Olympic Stadium was illuminated with the flags of the participating NOCs and the athletes took centre stage.
Just as they had done in the Opening Ceremony, the delegation of the host nation, the Republic of Korea, entered the stadium side by side with their neighbours from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, in a powerful show of unity.
It was a continuation of a theme that had been so central to what IOC President Thomas Bach chose in his farewell address to call the “Games of New Horizons.”
Flying the flag
Among the flagbearers given the honour of leading their delegations into the stadium were some of the stand-out performers of PyeongChang 2018: Ester Ledecká (CZE), who completed an unprecedented golden double in Alpine skiing and snowboard; Ireen Wüst who took her medal tally to 11 at the Gangneung Oval, more than any other speed skater in history; and there was the host nation’s Lee Seung-hoon, who produced a brilliant victory in the new mass start men’s speed skating event; and of course the ‘Queen of the Games’ who had set records tumbling with five medals – more than any other athlete at PyeongChang 2018 – Marit Bjoergen of Norway.
After the athletes took their seats, the fanfare of music and light subsided, as a giant illuminated turtle – an animal that is sacred to the Koreans – was led to the centre of the stage, which was transformed into a sea of colour, as the haunting melodies of a traditional Korean ballad replaced the upbeat K-pop rhythms that had accompanied the athletes into the stadium.
All rise for Queen Marit
Before the celebrations continued, there were two final medal ceremonies to be conducted - for the men’s 50km and women’s 30km mass start cross-country races.
Presenting the medals was the IOC President Thomas Bach himself, flanked by Gian-Franco Kasper, the President of the International Ski Federation (FIS).
Fittingly, the first of the two medal ceremonies provided an opportunity for Marit Bjoergen, who became the most decorated Winter Olympian of all time at PyeongChang 2018, to take centre stage, and the decibel levels in the stadium rose noticeably as the 37-year-old was presented with the gold medal – her eighth (and 15th medal overall) – for her victory in the women’s event earlier in the day.
Then it was the turn of Iivo Niskanen who brought Finland its sole gold of these Games with a remarkable performance of bravery and stamina in the men’s 50km race.
Thank you volunteers
Next up the two new elected members of the IOC Athletes Commission were introduced: Kikkan Randall, US cross-country skier, who won gold in the cross-country team sprint (her 19th attempt to win an Olympic title) and Finland’s ice hockey star Emma Terho. They were tasked, on behalf of all of the athletes, with officially thanking representatives of the 20,000-strong team of volunteers who, as ever, had played such a pivotal part at the beating heart of the Games.
There was then a radical shift in mood and tempo as CL – the latest megastar of Korean “K-pop” – bounded onto the stage, with a high-energy hip-hop style number played out on platform of virtual fire.
Then yet another shift in mood, as, in time-honoured fashion, the national anthem of Greece – home of the Ancient Olympic Games – was played, followed by the Olympic Anthem, which was performed by 11-year-old Jung Jon-oh, winner of a TV singing talent show in the host country.
IOC President Thomas Bach then took centre stage, accompanied by Shim Jae-kook and Jining Chen – the respective mayors of PyeongChang county and Beijing (CHN) - for the handover of the Olympic flag by the 2018 host city to its 2022 counterparts. The Chinese flag was raised and the Chinese national anthem played, before the world was given its first sneak preview of what to expect from the next edition of the Olympic Winter Games with a mouth-watering holographic presentation of Beijing 2022.
As he bid farewell to the world on behalf of PyeongChang and the Republic of Korea, POCOG president and CEO Hee Beom-lee took quoted William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, noting that “parting is such sweet sorrow”. And there is no doubt that the hosts had produced a memorable edition of the Games that would live long in the hearts of those who had taken part and watched them.
The POCOG president paid tribute to the athletes, highlighting the many triumphs in the face of adversity that exemplified the Olympic spirit, the presence of athletes from NOCs that were making their Winter Games debut, and of course the athletes who competed as a unified Korea for the first time. “All of you,” he said, “are truly winners.”
Unity and optimism for the future were also very much at the heart of the message then delivered by IOC President Thomas Bach, who hailed the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 as “the Games of New Horizons”.
President Bach was also full of praise for the way that the organisers had managed to deliver a Games that were “rooted in tradition” while “showing the way to the future”, something that he added was true to the founding principles of the modern Olympic Games.
“They have proved true the words of our founder, Pierre de Coubertin, when he said the Olympic Games are a homage to the past and an act of faith in the future,” said the IOC President, adding that the PyeongChang 2018 Games had reminded the world of the power of the Games to promote peace. “A true homage to the past was the respect of the Olympic Truce, just as it was three thousand years ago in ancient Olympia.”
Specifically, in this regard, President Bach paid tribute to the two NOCs from the Korean Peninsular for their efforts in joining together to promote harmony and reconciliation during the course of PyeongChang 2018, and he praised them for delivering a message that the rest of the world could learn from.
“Dear athletes from the NOCs of the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, with your joint march, you have shared your faith in a peaceful future with all of us.
“You have shown how sport brings people together in our fragile world; you have shown how sport builds bridges. The IOC will continue this Olympic dialogue, even after we extinguish the Olympic flame.”
The IOC President was also keen to highlight how PyeongChang 2018 had embraced modernity in a way that helped breathe new life into the Winter Games and enhance their global, inter-generational appeal.
“These Olympic Winter Games have introduced new events that appeal to new generations. Digital technology has enabled more people in more countries to see winter sports in more ways… Therefore I can truly say: the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 are the Games of New Horizons.”
Eight of the stars of the PyeongChang Games representing all five continents - Martin Fourcade (FRA), Nao Kodaira (JPN), Seun Adigun (NGR), Yun Sungbin (ROK), Ryom Tae-ok (PRK), Lindsey Vonn (USA), Liu Jiayu (CHN), Pita Taufatofua (TGA) - then joined the IOC President on the stage, to express a collective word of thanks to the host nation on behalf of the Olympic family, with a traditional Korean gesture of gratitude.
With that, in time honoured tradition, the IOC President declared the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 officially closed, but before exiting the stage he turned his focus towards the next edition of the Olympic Winter Games four years hence. “In accordance with tradition, I call upon the youth of the world to assemble four years from now in Beijing, People’s Republic of China, to celebrate with all of us, the 24th Olympic Winter Games.”
Another K-pop anthem entitled Power was dedicated to all of the athletes competing at PyeongChang 2018, before the five children who had starred in the Opening Ceremony returned to the stage flanked by the now familiar mascot of the 2018 Winter Games, Soohorang, the white tiger. We were then treated to a selection of the sporting highlights from the Games, before the stadium was once again submerged into darkness and the Olympic flame was extinguished... And then it was party time, as the athletes left their seats to return to the stage en masse, NOC flags put to one side as the Olympic Family united to continue their celebrations into the early hours.
Farewell PyeongChang 2018. Beijing 2022 here we come!