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Beijing leaves London with plenty to ponder

Beijing said farewell to the Olympic Games with all the theatricality with which they welcomed them here at the Bird's Nest stadium.

world Updated: Aug 24, 2008 20:18 IST

Beijing said farewell to the Olympic Games with all the theatricality with which they welcomed them in Beijing at the Bird's Nest stadium.

To describe the scenes that a capacity crowd of 91,000 witnessed Saturday as "fantastic" would be both literally accurate and yet somehow inadequate.

It all added up, as indeed the whole Games had, into a very hard act for London to follow in 2012.

For how could they top this?

Perhaps there was a clue in the handover section which featured an ageing rocker in Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, a pop star propelled to prominence by a reality television show in Leona Lewis and footballer David Beckham, a man whose massive global celebrity brought him instant recognition.

Before this two-hour ceremony began there would have been fears among some in Britain that the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, would make one of the gaffes for which he is so celebrated at home.

But Johnson, who even in a formal suit looked just like a scruffy schoolboy, took his hands out of his pockets long enough to manage waving the Olympic flag without causing an international incident during the formal handover.

Then the crowd were treated to the surreal sight of a London double-decker bus, albeit a modern one as opposed to the classic 'Routemaster', being chased round the Bird's Nest by a trio of British cyclists including Olympic champions Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton.

Whatever your view on this particular scene, it was undeniably British. Then a jarringly up-tempo version of the traditional English song 'Greensleeves' blared out.

A child carrying a football, accompanied by a British school crossing-lady, complete with 'Stop Traffic' lollipop, walked across the backs of dancers to the bus which then opened up to reveal a stage where Lewis and guitar hero Page belted out a version of the Led Zeppelin rock classic 'Whole Lotta Love'.

And emerging from the top of the stage came Beckham, accompanied by the girl with the football. Beckham didn't say anything but, such is his fame, he didn't need to do more than kick the ball.

When the main event began, movie director Zhang Yimou, the man responsible for the opening ceremony, again created a colourful vista featuring hundreds of dancers, ribbons, traditional fans and fireworks.

Even more spectacular, was the acrobatic sight of musicians suspended on giant drums lowered from the Bird's Nest roof looking like they were taking part in adverts designed to demonstrate an adhesive's strength.

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said in his closing remarks that "through these Games the world learned more about China, and China learned more about the world".

But, as the Olympic torch was extinguished and fireworks split the night sky, it was hard to know whether those lessons would last longer than the memories of this staggering scene which concluded 'the greatest show on earth'.