Glory and spectacle, grace and disgrace: Sydney Olympics end

SYDNEY, Australia, AP

From the fields of play to Sydney’s spectacular harbor, Australia and the world’s athletes cut loose Sunday, bidding goodbye to two weeks of sporting triumphs and doping scandals — a memorable Summer Olympics proud to claim the coveted title of “best games ever.”

Fireworks exploded across the Sydney sky, heralding an 13.5-kilometer (8.5-mile) “fuse” designed to carry the Olympic torch’s symbolic light from the main stadium along barges in Homebush Bay to a jam-packed downtown, where the majestic Harbor Bridge for an explosion of light.

“Seven years ago, I said, ‘And the winner is Sydney,”’ said Juan Antonio Samaranch, the retiring president of the International Olympic Committee. “Well, what can I say now? Maybe, with my Spanish accent, ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie.”’

The crowd of 100,000 thundered the response now known across the world: “Oi! Oi! Oi!”

Organizers wanted a relaxed closing show that let competitors and spectators send the games off in style. And a raucous, untethered, schticky party they got.

It veered oddly among comedy (slapstick routines), ancient ritualism (Greek priestesses in flowing dresses) and the simply hallucinogenic (a giant upended fish skeleton and shrimp on bicycles) — testament to what choreography, technology and an arena full of enthusiastic spectators can do.

The festivities began minutes after Elias Rodriguez of Micronesia ran into Olympic Stadium, ending the men’s marathon and freeing the arena for athletes to swarm in.

The Olympic flame went dark, but the partying went on.

Olympics-giddy fans and volunteers packed a stadium crackling with energy. They did the wave, flashed flashlights by the thousands into a crystal-clear night and chanted that spirited “Aussie” chant.