Fireworks and the Japanese word for thank you, "arigato," concludes the Closing Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics on August 8. Photo by Mike Theiler/UPI | License Photo
Aug. 8 (UPI) -- A low-key Closing Ceremony marked the end of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics , as organizers, athletes and delegations bid a bittersweet farewell to Games that were delayed for a year by COVID-19 and marked by several challenges -- but also delivered unforgettable sporting moments.
"You inspired us with the unifying power of sport," International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said to the athletes in his closing address.
"This is even more remarkable given the many challenges you had to face because of the pandemic. In these difficult times, you gave the world the most precious of gifts: hope."
Like the Opening Ceremony and most events during the Games, no fans were allowed in the stadium during the Closing Ceremony. Attendance was limited to team delegations, media and Olympics VIPs.
The ceremony kicked off with fireworks and a parade of the 206 participating delegations. Javelin thrower Kara Winger, a four-time Olympian, was chosen by her teammates to be the flag bearer for the U.S. contingent.
Athletes filed into the stadium in smaller numbers than at the Opening Ceremony as COVID-19 restrictions had required most of them to depart within 48 hours after their competitions ended.
Virtually all were wearing masks, but the mood on the field grew festive as they danced, took selfies and waved to the television cameras.
However, the overall tone of the ceremony had a somber tinge, and a sense of relief rather than joy seemed to permeate the air as the Olympic flame was doused.
The Olympic flag was officially handed over by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike to Mayor Anne Hidalgo of Paris, the host city of the next Summer Olympics in 2024. A video highlighted the sights of the French capital, while live celebrations took place in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.
Tokyo also had a chance to take a final bow, with live performances that included traditional Japanese taiko drumming and Ainu dance, as well as music by the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra alongside actors portraying scenes from daily life in a Tokyo park.
The final medals of the Games were given out for the marathon events, with Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya taking home the men's gold and Peres Jepchirchir, also of Kenya, winning the women's gold. American Molly Seidel took the women's bronze.
The last day of the Olympics saw the United States surge ahead of China to top the medal count, coming out with 39 golds to China's 38. Team USA added 41 silvers and 33 bronzes to finish with the most overall medals at 113.
Host nation Japan came in third in the gold medal count with 27, followed by Britain at 22 and the Russian Olympic Committee, the name under which athletes from Russia are competing due to a two-year doping ban, with 20.
Australia finished sixth with 17 gold medals, on the strength of a powerhouse performance in swimming, including an epic victory by Ariane Titmus over American legend Katie Ledecky in the 400-meter freestyle.
On Sunday, the U.S. women's basketball team beat host Japan 90-75 in the gold medal game at Saitama Super Arena, led by Brittney Griner's 30-point outburst.
The victory marked the seventh straight gold medal for Team USA and brought veterans Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, who made their Olympic debuts in 2004, a record five golds each.
America's Jennifer Valente won gold in the women's omnium cycling race at Izu Velodrome to bring the United States even with China in the gold medal count.
It was Team USA's first-ever gold in women's volleyball that placed the United States over the top, with a dominant straight-sets victory over silver medalist Brazil, 3-0.
On Saturday, President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden spoke with dozens of team USA athletes on a Zoom call from their home in Delaware, and invited them to visit him in the White House in the fall.
"You handle yourself with such grace, and such decency," Biden said. "You made me so damn proud."
Biden singled out a number of athletes, including runner Isaiah Jewett, whose act of sportsmanship after being accidentally tripped in the 800-meter men's semifinal by Botswana's Nijel Amos went viral.
He also praised gymnastics superstar Simone Biles, who withdrew from several individual events to focus on her mental health.
"You're setting an example, I really mean it," Biden said. "You had the courage to say, 'I need some help. I need some help, I need some time.' And you gave an example to everybody. And guess what -- you got back up on that damn beam."
Biles won a bronze medal in the balance beam event.
COVID-19 was an unavoidable presence throughout the Games, with Tokyo under a state of emergency and suffering its largest-ever daily outbreaks over the course of the Games.
Organizers managed to keep the Olympic bubble of some 42,000 athletes, delegations, officials and media relatively secure. A total of 436 Olympics-related people, including 32 athletes, tested positive for COVID-19 since the beginning of July, with the majority of cases among local contractors and other personnel.
Soaring temperatures and high humidity also created dangerous conditions for athletes and forced events to be moved and rescheduled, while the Japanese public never fully embraced the Games.
However, many moments on the playing field will go down in Olympics history.
For the Americans, swimmer Caleb Dressel's haul of five gold medals and Katie Ledecky's emotional victory in the 1500-meter freestyle were among the highlights in the pool.
Suni Lee captured gold in the women's individual all-around gymnastics and Team USA's men and women continued their domination in basketball.
Italy's Marcell Jacobs took over the title of world's fastest man with a win in the 100-meter dash and Canada's Andre de Grasse took home the men's 200-meter gold.
High jumpers Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar and Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy memorably shared gold in a joyous celebration, while new sports such as surfing and skateboarding made successful debuts.
As these most unusual of modern Olympics come to a close, there is not much time to rest for Tokyo. The Paralympic Games are up next, starting Aug. 24 and running until Sept 5.
And as for Paris, the Olympics will begin July 26, 2024, and run through Aug. 11.