Site: Torino, Italy
Dates: February 10-26
Total Athletes: 2,494
As the 2006 Winter Olympic Games came to an end, the closing ceremony at Stadio Olimpico in Torino capped 16 days of competition among over 2,500 athletes from around the globe.
The theme of the night was "Carnevale Italiano." Carnival in Italy dates back to the era of the Roman Empire, when it was part of the pagan lifestyle, but over the centuries the festival changed in accordance with the evolution of the people's faith.
Carnival is the time just prior to the Roman Catholic season of Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday. A series of parties lead up to the final day of celebrating on Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday. The Lenten season, which begins this upcoming Wednesday, is marked by numerous days of fasting, so the culmination of carnival is a last hurrah of sorts.
The importance of masks in the carnival celebration was apparent throughout the evening, as many participants onstage and members of the crowd donned the disguises. The wearing of masks during carnival can be traced back to the Venetian celebrations beginning in the 13th century.
The ceremony included an athletes' parade, which featured speedskater Joey Cheek as flag bearer for the United States. Cheek won the gold medal in the men's 500 meters and took silver in the 1,000. He was part of a U.S. men's team that earned seven medals at this year's Winter Games.
One of the highlights of the evening came with the hand over of the Olympic flag from Italy to Canada. This portion of the festivities began with a series of speeches made by International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge, TOROC president Valentino Castellani and Sam Sullivan, mayor of the city of Vancouver, which will host the 21st edition of the Winter Games in 2010.
After the speeches, a trio of Canadian Mounties handed over the flag of Canada to the Italian honor guard. The flag was then raised.
After the Olympic flag was transferred to Canada, a vocal performance was delivered by Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli, who belted out a rendition of "Ama Credi e Vai."
The extinguishing of the Olympic flame was followed by an Aurora Borealis light show and after a final concert by various international artists, the night ended with an enormous fireworks display.