Games glide to an end; ‘Something magical happened here’; Colorful finale caps Utah’s victory over security concerns

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

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SALT LAKE CITY – When Olympic organizers announced Kiss would be performing at Sunday night’s closing ceremony, conservative Utahans weren’t sure how to react.

The Deseret News, a local daily owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ran a story quoting several local citizens concerned that the band “has long been criticized as being satanic.”

“Maybe if they did a mild performance, that would be OK, but that’s not likely,” Utahan Kathy Curtis was quoted as saying. “This is really in poor taste.”

That the choice of an aging rock band was worthy of controversy shows just how smoothly the last 17 days have gone. Like any Olympics, the 19th Winter Olympic Games began with worries: over security, over religion, over how prepared Utah was to host the world. But they ended with the largest party the state has ever seen.

“Olympians and people of Salt Lake City, we did it!” said Mitt Romney, president of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, to a huge worldwide television audience. “Something magical happened here.”

Sunday night’s theme was celebrating American popular music – something Utah has admittedly contributed little to since the Osmonds peaked. ‘N Sync opened the show with an a cappella version of the national anthem and was followed by jazz singer Dianne Reeves, Earth, Wind & Fire, Gloria Estefan and Harry Connick Jr.

And, of course, Kiss, doing its old war horse “Rock and Roll All Nite,” originally released in 1975, the same year Donny and Marie Osmond had their first prime-time TV special. Utahans needn’t have worried too much about their performance, which didn’t feature any of the band’s standard fake blood or fire breathing.

But in what is likely a first in Kiss history, the band was accompanied by figure skaters, former Olympic champions Katarina Witt and Kristi Yamaguchi. Skaters such as Kurt Browning and Dorothy Hamill also accompanied other artists.

Passing the baton

Between bands, officials found time for the usual business of any Olympiad, the passing of the baton to the next host city. Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson passed the Olympic flag to Sergio Chiamparino, mayor of Turin, Italy, where the 2006 Winter Olympics will be held. To get fans ready, Italian singer Irene Grandi led the crowd in a rendition of “Volare,” followed by a tribute to Italian fashion.

“People of America, Utah and Salt Lake City, you have given the world superb Games,” said Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee. “You have reassured us that people from all countries can live peacefully together.”

Mr. Rogge was followed by an unannounced appearance by Willie Nelson covering Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

The Olympic flag was lowered and escorted out of Olympic Stadium to the sounds of 130 trumpets. The flame, lighted 17 days earlier by members of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, was extinguished.

While the Games were not without controversy – including a judging scandal in figure skating, accusations of bias, and two major doping cases on its final day – Mr. Rogge judged them a success.

But closing the Olympics didn’t mean closing down the party. There was still time for a black-light stick-man ballet (soundtrack provided by Moby) and performances by Christina Aguilera and Bon Jovi. Athletes were invited to come down from the stands to celebrate and dance to the music.

All nations present

Despite earlier threats of a boycott by Russian officials, every participating nation was represented at the ceremony. “A lot of the closing we really designed to entertain the athletes,” said Don Mischer, the event’s executive producer, before the show. “It puts us in complete party mood.”

The more staid opening ceremony’s pageant highlighted Utah history, and in a way, so did the closing. But this time the history was prehistoric, via a pair of talking dinosaur skeletons (voiced by none other than Donny and Marie) who provided commentary throughout the show. The female dino was distinguishable by the lipstick.

The grand finale: an epic snowball fight, followed by a fireworks show on a truly Olympian scale, featuring about 10,000 shells, or about 36 exploding every second.