The Winter Olympics ended spectacularly with a dramatic victory by host Canada in its national sport, followed by an exuberant ceremony to cap an emotional 17 days that saw tragedy, tenacity and triumph.
Hours after Team Canada defeated the upstart U.S. 3-2 in overtime to win the gold medal in men's hockey, the Vancouver games that began with the death of a luger ended in an exuberant celebration of Canada, replete with giant inflatable beavers and flying moose — 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 still abuzz over the hockey game. The Canadian victory in their signature sport gave the team its 14th gold medal, a Winter Olympics record.
"It's not what we wanted, but I think we gained a lot of respect," said U.S. goalie Ryan Miller, who plays for the Buffalo Sabres and was named MVP of the tournament. "Our guys came here as an afterthought to a lot of people and we just started a new trend with U.S.A. hockey."
The U.S. topped all nations with 37 medals overall — the most ever for any country in a Winter Games. The Americans captured nine gold medals, one less than Germany and five fewer than Canada.
But as Michael J. Fox said during Sunday’s closing ceremonies, fans and athletes across the globe are welcome to come back anytime.
“Canada is a big tent,” said the Canadian actor who lives in the U.S. “If you’re good at something, we will claim you.”
Right from the start, there was a spirit of redemption as Canadian producers made up for an opening-ceremony glitch in which one leg of the Olympic cauldron failed to rise from the stadium floor. On Sunday, the bad leg rose smoothly and former speedskating medalist Catriona LeMay Doan — who missed out on the opening-night flame lighting because of the glitch — got to perform that duty this time.
Neil Young, Alanis Morissette and William Shatner were among the famous Canadians to send off the Games. Musician Michael Buble in a mountie costume aided by dancers helped enthrall the crowd.
The gaiety contrasted sharply with the moment of silence at the opening ceremony Feb. 12 for Nodar Kumaritashvili, the 21-year-old luger killed in a horrific training-run crash on the sliding track in Whistler just hours before that ceremony.
"These games started out with a nightmare and ended up with a golden dream," said Kevan Gosper, an IOC member from Australia who was in the stadium crowd Sunday evening.
In a poignant gesture, Canadian officials selected figure skater Joannie Rochette as their flagbearer for the closing ceremony. Her mother died of a heart attack hours after arriving in Vancouver last weekend, but Rochette chose to carry on and won a bronze medal, inspiring her teammates and fans around the world.
"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."
The U.S. flagbearer was Bill Demong, a veteran of four Olympics who won a gold and silver medal in Nordic combined.
U.S. hockey player Angela Ruggiero and British skeleton racer Adam Pengilly were sworn in as the two newest members of the International Olympic Committee after being chosen by their fellow athletes.
For the U.S. team, the Vancouver Games provided a handful of historic moments:
There were the gravity defying theatrics of snowboarder Shaun White’s Double McTwist 1260 and aerialist Jeret “Speedy” Peterson’s Hurricane move. The Nordic combined team broke an 86-year winless streak to take home four medals. Ski star Bode Miller finally fulfilled expectations dashed in Torino by taking home three medals, one gold. American figure skater Evan Lysacek's flawless technical performance upset the Russian champion, while speedskater Apolo Anton Ohno became the most decorated U.S. Winter Olympian.
On the ladies’ side, downhill skiers Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso gave the U.S. its first 1-2 finish in any Olympic Alpine event since 1984. Vonn overcame a shin injury to win two medals on the slopes before breaking her pinkie in a wipeout. Mancuso also medaled twice.
While, the U.S. ladies’ figure skating team failed to medal for just the second time since 1952, Americans watching at home cheered South Korean figure skater Kim Yu-na’s record-breaking performance and Canadian Rochette’s brave third-place finish.
Again, the Canadians had a special cause for celebration, as its $117 million investment to support athletes leading up to the Games paid off.
The comeback by the Canadian athletes – 10 gold medals won in the second half of the games -- was mirrored by the resilience of the Vancouver Organizing Committee. It 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 for an exceptional Olympics — albeit one tinged with sadness.
The closing show included the traditional handover ceremony, in which the Olympic flag is lowered and presented to the hosts of the next Winter Games in 2014.
Anatoly Pakhomov, the mayor of Sochi, Russia, received the flag from Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, followed by an eight-minute presentation about Sochi featuring opera, ballet, ice skating and giant glowing spheres called "zorbs."