Philip Barker: Sochi 2014 have lot to live up to match Misha farewell at Moscow 1980

Friday, 21 February 2014
Philip BarkerThirty-four years ago, Misha the Bear shed a tear and soared into the night sky at the Lenin Stadium as the Moscow Olympics came to an end.

Now the Olympic flame which has burned so brightly on Russian soil will flicker and die at the formal end of the 2014 Games. International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach will close them with the time honoured words. "I call upon the youth of the world to come together again in Pyeongchang Republic of Korea, there to celebrate with us the XXIII Olympic Winter Games."

The Closing Ceremony is traditionally much more informal than the Opening. Even the parade of the teams is different, thanks to a suggestion by  a Chinese Australian schoolboy called John Ian Wing in 1956.

"The march I have in mind is different from the opening and will make the Games even greater," he said. "War, politics and nationality will be forgotten what more could anyone want if the world could be made as one nation? They must not march but walk freely and wave to the public. When they stop they should be given three cheers."

The flag bearers lead the way in, followed by a stream of athletes from all nations as Wing suggested.

Thanks to the suggestion of schoolboy John Ian Wing in 1956, athletes come into the stadium in a very different way at the Closing Ceremony ©Getty Images Thanks to the suggestion of schoolboy John Ian Wing in 1956, athletes come into the stadium in a very different way at the Closing Ceremony ©Getty Images

A more recent innovation has been the introduction of the new members of the IOC Athletes' Commission, elected during the Games by a ballot held in the Olympic Village amongst all competitors. They in turn acknowledge the contribution of volunteers to the Games by a symbolic presentation of flowers to a small group representing their thousands of colleagues.

The lowering of the Olympic flag is always a poignant moment at the closing ceremony. In Turin, it was trooped out to the strains of the Olympic Anthem which then gave way to Va Pensiero, Verdi's magnificent chorus of the Hebrew slaves from Nabucco as it passed under the giant Olympic Rings one last time to leave the stadium. In 2010 it fell to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to troop the flag from the arena. It was the moment that Vancouver ceased to be Olympia, and reverted to its normal existence as a city in British Columbia.

Another Olympic flag also has a central role in the closing of the Games. Just as the Summer Olympics has a ceremonial silk flag, so too does the Winter Games, the gift of the city of Oslo after 1952. This used to be handed over at the Opening Ceremony, but in 1984 the IOC changed the ritual so that the city about to stage the Games would act as the guardian of the flag for the next four years. Thus Sarajevo received it at their Opening Ceremony from Lake Placid and brought it to Canada in 1988. The city fathers of Calgary only kept the flag for 15 days. At their Closing Ceremony, they presented it to Albertville. The French duly passed it on to Lillehammer in 1992. The Olympic winter cycle was also changed by this time and ever since 1994 the Games have always been held in a separate year from the Summer version.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police troop the Olympic flag from the arena during the Vancouver 2010 Closing Ceremony ©AFP/Getty ImagesThe Royal Canadian Mounted Police troop the Olympic flag from the arena during the Vancouver 2010 Closing Ceremony ©AFP/Getty Images

In recent years, the exchange of the Oslo flag has been the prelude to a cultural display by the next host city. Although a link with Moscow's Red Square flashed onto the giant television screens at the close of the Montreal 1976 summer Olympics , this ritual really took flight for the first time at the 1984 Los Angeles Games when the Seoul City dance troupe performed on stage in the Coliseum after receiving the Olympic flag. Now another South Korean city will perform the handover segment.

In 1998, the performance by Salt Lake City astounded the crowds in Nagano. A stage coach complete with horses burst onto the stage followed by cowboys. It was meant to symbolise the pioneering spirit but when the Salt Lake bribery scandal broke later that year, many felt it was more reminiscent of the excesses of the Wild West.

The Dean Martin classic Volare was a central part of the Turin handover, and in 2006 first nation Eskimos built the Vancouver symbol at the Stadio Olimpico. In 2010, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson returned the ceremonial Olympic flag to IOC President Jacques Rogge who in turn passed it on to Anatoly Pakhomov, Mayor of Sochi. Then came a rousing rendition of the Russian national anthem by a Moscow choir, before a magical ballet against a backdrop of the sea by moonlight. Mugssorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition and Tchaicovsky's Symphony Pathetique were both heard, alongside Borodin's Polotsvian Dance from Prince Igor, music also performed at the Opening Ceremony in Sochi.

A magical ballet against a backdrop of the sea by moonlight was performed in Vancouver to herald the handover to Sochi ©Getty ImagesA magical ballet against a backdrop of the sea by moonlight was performed in Vancouver to herald the handover to Sochi ©Getty Images

The Closing Ceremony is a time for reflection and also for looking forward. The raising of three flags is an important ritual as the Games move towards their close.

The flag of Greece is hoisted to the mast head to the strains of their national anthem "Hymn to freedom" to symbolise the origins of the Games. Then the flag and anthem for the present hosts, in this case Sochi in Russia, is performed followed by the South Korean anthem for the next Winter Olympic city .

These used to be played one after the other, but now the respective anthems are separated throughout the ceremony, which it has to be said, lessens the symbolic impact somewhat. It is something that would benefit from the IOC laying down the law.

The last such three flag ceremony to be held in Russia had an interesting political twist. The Americans boycotted the 1980 Games in  Moscow and were unwilling to allow the Stars and Stripes to be flown. After some frantic behind the scenes discussions and a late night call to Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, it was the less familiar green, gold and red flag of the city which flew in the Lenin Stadium.

Tradition play an important part in an Olympic Closing Ceremony ©Getty ImagesTradition play an important part in an Olympic Closing Ceremony ©Getty Images

For the second successive Winter Games, the Closing Ceremony will be held indoors at the same arena which staged the Opening. This recalls an earlier tradition when the closing was often held in the inside skating hall.

At Sarajevo in 1984, the ceremony was very modest indeed by comparison with recent spectaculars. It was held at the Zetra Ice rink, where Katarina Witt, Scott Hamilton and Torvill and Dean had all starred in the previous week. Mascot Vucko, the little wolf, skated in line with children. Calgary 1988 mascots Hidy and Howdy also appeared on stage

"It was great in Sarajevo, see you in Calgary," sang the choir in farewell.

Juan Antonio Samaranch presented the Organising Committee chairman Branko Mikulic with the Olympic order in gold, thus beginning another tradition of sorts.

"As this great festival of sport and peace comes to the end, and we must say goodbye to Sarajevo, I am convinced that these Games will remain forever in our hearts and memories. Dovidjenja Yugoslavia, Dovidjenja Drago Sarajevo [Goodbye Yugoslavia, farewell dear Sarajevo]," he said. Samaranch never forgot the affection he held for the city in Bosnia Herzegovina.

His speech was in stark contrast to the hard hitting words of his predecessor Lord Killanin at Lake Placid in 1980. Those Games had taken place against a backdrop of uncertainty in the Olympic Movement. US President Jimmy Carter was calling for a boycott of the Moscow Olympics.

"If we can all come together, it will be for a better world and will avoid the holocaust which may well descend if we are not careful." Killanin used similar words that summer in Moscow and on both occasions received an ovation from the crowd.

Calgary started a trend for outdoor ceremonies in 1988. Skaters saluted the flags of all nations before the flame died. The choir performed the Olympic Anthem in the original Greek as the famous five-ringed flag was struck.

"You have captured our hearts. And some of you have soared like eagles," said organising chief Frank King and the crowd roared their approval. British ski jumper Eddie the Eagle Edwards had been one of the unexpected heroes of the Games, despite finishing last in the ski jumping. Most Canadians recognised his courage in participating in one of the most daunting of all Olympic events.

In 1994, the small town of Lillehammer in Norway staged magical Games which many still feel were the greatest ever. But many were thinking the host city from a decade before. Spectators were given a special flashlight bearing the words "Remember Sarajevo" now in the midst of a brutal civil war.

The magical Games of Lillehammer 1994 - during its Closing Ceremony, spectators were given a special flashlight bearing the words "Remember Sarajevo" ©Getty ImagesThe magical Games of Lillehammer 1994 - during its Closing Ceremony, spectators were given a special flashlight bearing the words "Remember Sarajevo" ©Getty Images

"After many horrors, the situation seems to be improving," said Samaranch at the Closing Ceremony. "Let us hope that this truce, to which we have contributed in our own limited way, let us hope that this truce will turn into a lasting peace."

Lillehammer organisers had also been very conscious of their responsibilities to the environment. MayorAudun Tron gave a "message stick" to an environmental expedition who began a one-and-a-half year journey on skis, drawn by dog teams from Lillehammer, across Siberia, to Nagano. Once in Nagano, they were to deliver an environmental message.

Dinosaurs roared at Salt Lake but if the voices seemed familiar, they were. In a scene reminiscent of the unmasking of the Wizard of Oz, the identities of the two were revealed as Donny and Marie Osmond.

Donny joined children to sing Inspire the Spirit and once the flame had died, Christina Aguilera was on hand to entertain the athletes

In 2010, the Canadians made light of the way the cauldron had not quite worked at their opening ceremony in a light-hearted ceremony. "Canada is my home team," said Michael J Fox. "My name is Bill and I am proud to be a Canadian," said William Shatner, known to many as Captain James Kirk from the cult sixties television series Star Trek.

Now the spotlight falls on Sochi. Buses have carried the cast to the Fisht stadium for the final rehearsals over this past week. If the Opening Ceremony is any guide, Sochi's farewell to the world will be equally as spectacular.

Born in Hackney, a stone's throw from the 2012 Olympic Stadium, Philip Barker has worked as a television journalist for 25 years. He began his career with Trans World Sport, then as a reporter for Skysports News and the ITV breakfast programme. A regular Olympic pundit on BBC Radio, Sky News and Talksport, he is associate editor of the Journal of Olympic History, has lectured at the National Olympic Academy and contributed extensively to Team GB publications. To follow him on Twitter click here.
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