Tokyo handed its Olympic flag to the mayor of Paris on Sunday, setting the stage for the next Games in 2024 at a closing ceremony that featured park scenes of both cities, emphasising human contact even as the pandemic continues.
In Tokyo, athletes got a surreal glimpse of everyday Tokyo life on Sunday when the closing ceremony was briefly transformed into a park with grass, buskers and BMX riders in a valediction after weeks spent under the regime of a pandemic Games.
Performers danced, skipped and played soccer, mingling and waving to athletes, who gathered closely together on the grass. Organisers said the scene was meant so they could “experience Tokyo”, a poignant nod to the fact that many spent their time at the Games cooped up in rooms or competing in venues.
It was a duly odd closing to a Games that were upended by the pandemic and then transformed by the drama of politics, sport and personal turmoil. The Tokyo Olympics were originally intended to show Japan’s recovery from a devastating earthquake, Tsunami and nuclear crisis in 2011.
After being postponed for a year, organisers said the Games would serve as a symbol of the world’s triumph over the pandemic. Held without spectators and with COVID-19 variants resurgent, the Games fell short of triumph and the financial windfall Japan first sought.
Instead, the host nation is saddled with a $15 billion bill, double what it initially expected, and with no tourist boom to offset it.
In Paris, several thousands sports fans waving the tricolour flag thronged into a fan zone across the river from the Eiffel Tower as the French capital prepared to take the Olympic baton from Tokyo.
Pop music blared out as Tokyo medallists Teddy Riner and Clarisse Agbegnenou bounced on stage. Plans to fly a giant Olympic flag from the Eiffel Tower were abandoned because of strong winds.
France promises a 2024 Summer Olympics “for the people” after a pandemic-hit, spectator-less Tokyo Games. In a sign that those days are far from close, though, public entry to the fan zone was permitted only upon presentation of a vaccine certificate or negative COVID-19 test.