London Olympics close with a flourish

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Former mayor Pamela Conley Ulich took in the epic closing ceremony of the 2012 Olympics.

By Pamela Conley Ulich / Special to The Malibu Times

The London summer Olympic spirit is euphoric, and it is contagious. When we made our way on the tube to the Olympic stadium for one last hoorah, I didn’t think it could top the 16 days filled with sensational sporting events. Like the British National Gallery’s “Sunflowers” painting by Vincent Van Gogh, which combines blooming and wilting flowers to highlight the cycle of life and death, the Olympic closing ceremony showcased the past, present and future cultural icons of Great Britain in one boogielicious party filled with singing, dancing and celebration.

The program asserted that “You don’t have to win a medal to be a hero,” and the ceremony fittingly celebrated both the 10,000 or so athletes and the 70,000 or so volunteers who made the games possible. The fans also participated. The ceremony started with nearly 80,000 people singing the British national anthem, “God Save the Queen,” and the party didn’t stop until over 2 hours later.

It was kind of like a crazy global karaoke night. David Arnold, the ceremony’s music director, promised it would be “cheeky, cheesy and thrilled” and “the greatest after-party in the world.” He made good on his promise.

Madness was the first rock group to perform, with a rendition of “Our House,” and it just kept getting better and better. According to my young daughter, the finest performance came from the new boy band One Direction, which sang on a truck that circled the stadium, but she also enjoyed the girl-power Spice Girls, who traveled on top of zipping taxis singing and dancing. When John Lennon appeared on the big screen singing “Imagine” the dancing momentarily stopped, and people began to sway back in forth in harmony.

I loved the colors that filled the stadium and the images that accompanied George Michael’s “Freedom,” even if Michael seemed a little off-key. Oasis and Russell Brand inspired the audience with the psychedelic “Flower Power”-themed bus, as did songs by Kate Bush, Annie Lennox, The Bee Gees and The Who.

The Olympic closing ceremony was high energy, but so were the games. It was an honor to witness so many historic moments. The USA garnered more gold medals and overall medals than any other country (although this fact was rarely discussed by local London papers or newscasters, who seemed to favor showcasing the bodacious Usain Bolt and everyone on team Great Britain). Michael Phelps became the first person to win 20 Olympic medals. The USA beach volleyball team of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh won a historic three consecutive medals. The USA men’s and women’s basketball teams, the Williams sisters and the Camarillo-born Bryan brothers tennis teams were “over the top,” too.

The Olympics were special for many other countries, too. Ireland won its only gold medal with Girl Power boxer Katie Taylor. Great Britain put on a great performance from the start, beginning with gold medal-winning women rowers Helen Glover and Heather Stanning, followed soon after when Andy Murray upset Roger Federer to win a medal in tennis at Wimbledon. Team GB earned more medals at this Olympics than any other Olympic games in history. And when people in London aren’t wearing the British flag, they are now wearing the green yellow and black colors of Jamaica, whose athletic prowess on the track is quickly becoming legendary.

For now, it’s back to reality, and I must catch our flight back to the USA in less than 2 hours. I pray the Olympic fairytales will return in Rio in 2016. Until then, the world will train hard, dream big, and, God willing, live in harmony and peace.