Site: Athens, Greece
Dates: August 13-29
Total Athletes: 11,099
For thousands of years, the Greek experience of life has been captured and communicated through song and dance. Those were the recurring themes displayed Sunday night at the Closing Ceremony of the 2004 Olympics.
For 16 days a total of 201 teams and 10,500 athletes competed across 37 disciplines and 28 sports at the Summer Games. On Sunday night the Athens Games came to a close.
Nearly four years ago there was a rumble that Athens would not be ready as the host city of the 2004 Olympics and they may have to shift back to Sydney, site of the 2000 Games. But those estimates were far off, and Athens pulled off Games that were well organized and exciting. There were some controversies in judging and doping, but overall the Games were deemed a success.
On Sunday night Athens had its crowning moment with a spectacular performance from nearly 3,700 volunteers and more than 70,000 watched in awe at the spectacular fireworks show that highlighted the culmination of the Olympics.
Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, president of the Athens 2004 Organizing Committee, and Jacques Rogge, president of the IOC, both spoke before the crowd shortly before the raising of the Chinese and Greek flags to symbolize the passage of the Games from Athens to Beijing for 2008. The Olympic flag was then handed over from the mayor of Athens, to Wang Qishan, mayor of Beijing.
Rogge called the Athens Olympics, "unforgettable Games, dream Games."
A short presentation followed about Beijing and Chinese culture and finally the Olympic flag was lowered and processed out of the stadium. Finally, the Olympic flame that was lit for 16 days of competition was extinguished.
A concert with Greek superstar singers performed as thousands of balloons were released from the top of the stadium and confetti machines processed countless pieces of paper, which rained down on the crowd from a number of locations.
The first part of the ceremony lasted a half hour and was a colorful and vibrant mosaic of music and dance celebrations, depicting festivals from weddings and holidays.
Later came the medal ceremony for the men's marathon race, which first became an Olympic sport at the 1896 revival in Athens. Stefano Baldini, gold winner of the marathon, proudly mouthed the Italian national anthem as it was played.
The International Olympic Committee presented Brazil's Vanderlei de Lima with the Pierre de Coubertin medal in recognition of his exceptional demonstration of fair play and Olympic values. Earlier in the day de Lima was attacked by a spectator during the marathon and finished as the bronze medalist.
The Modern Games were proposed to the IOC by a Frenchman who had been inspired by the story of the Athenian messenger who had run from the site of the battle of Marathon with word of the Greek victory. It is said that when the messenger arrived in Athens he shouted "we did defeat" and then died shortly afterwards.
Then came the entrance of the nation flags. Women's soccer star Mia Hamm, who helped her team win a gold medal at the Athens Games, was the U.S. flagbearer. Athletes of the world entered the stadium without distinction of nationality and most left during the final musical portion of the gala.