Tokyo doused its Olympic flame in a ceremony on Sunday that echoed the restraint of the games that played out without spectators and were defined and transformed by the global pandemic, dazzling sport and deeply personal turmoil.
Moments after the flame was extinguished in the Olympic Stadium, a volley of multicoloured fireworks lit up the night sky as athletes were already heading for the exits.
They were given a surreal glimpse of everyday Tokyo life when the closing ceremony was briefly transformed into a park with grass, buskers and BMX riders. Organisers said the scene was meant so they could “experience Tokyo”, a poignant nod to the fact that many spent their time at the games cooped up in rooms or competing in venues.
It was a duly odd closing to the games that were upended by the COVID-19 pandemic and then transformed by the drama of politics, sport and personal turmoil. The Tokyo Olympics were originally intended to show Japan’s recovery from a devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis in 2011.
It was also in marked contrast to the far more festive park scene that played out in Paris, where several thousand sports fans waving the tricolour flag thronged into a fan zone across the river from the Eiffel Tower as the French capital prepared to take the Olympic baton from Tokyo for the 2024 Summer Games.
After being postponed for a year, organisers said the games would serve as a symbol of the world’s triumph over the pandemic. Held without spectators and with coronavirus variants resurgent, the games fell short of a triumph and the financial windfall Japan first sought.
Instead, the host nation is saddled with a $15bn bill, double what it initially expected, and with no tourist boom to offset it.
The president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) thanked the Japanese people and touted the Olympics as a symbol of hope during a trying pandemic.
“Nobody has ever organised a postponed games before,” he said.