The 2018 Olympic Winter Games came to a close Sunday in Pyeongchang with a colorful, firework-filled show that featured Korean pop, high-tech dancing and even a little bit of politics before the Olympic flag was passed to Beijing, host of the 2022 Winter Games.
The final medals of the Games were handed out and the coordinated drone show that was a highlight of the opening ceremony returned, this time live over the stadium. When the Chinese delegation took over the Olympic flag, two glowing pandas slid across the floor of the Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium. After the cauldron was extinguished, a DJ led the stadium in a dance party as fireworks went off.
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The ceremony caps two weeks of games played under the threat of nuclear conflict between the host nation, South Korea, and its brutally authoritarian neighbor to the north. Yet the Olympics also featured some of the most hopeful signs of diplomacy since war was declared between North and South in 1950, as their athletes marched together in the opening ceremony and competed as one team in women's hockey. South Korean President Moon Jae-in was invited to visit the north, and Sunday, Moon's office said Pyongyang is ready to hold talks with the United States.
The Korean athletes marched under separate flags for the closing ceremony, but IOC President Thomas Bach credited their joint march in the opening ceremony with embodying faith in a peaceful future.
"You have shown how sport brings people together in our very fragile world. You have shown how sport builds bridges," Bach said.
The closing ceremony opened with a phalanx of paint-splattered cross-country skiers gliding across the floor, where they danced and formed the Olympic rings. Soon, a teenager was shredding guitar to a song played by traditional Korean and modern rock instruments as dancers in glowing costumes that recalled the movie "Tron" performed under the Olympic cauldron.
Cross-country skier Jessie Diggins carried the American flag out at the stadium, following the remarkable upset victory she and Kikkan Randall achieved in the women's team sprint, the United States' first gold in cross-country skiing in 42 years.
Tonga's famous flagbearer, Pita Taufatofua, once again held the country's flag aloft, though he wasn't topless like in the opening ceremonies in Pyeongchang and Rio — until he, Lindsey Vonn and other athletes returned to the spotlight at the end of the ceremony to help bring the Olympic Games to a close with a finger heart gesture.
Taufatofua was one of several callbacks to the opening ceremony. The coordinated drones formed the shape of the mascot Soohorang surrounded by a heart. According to reports on social media, even the impersonaters of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump were back.
The athletes marched into the stadium en masse, waving flags as a band played jaunty music. The team of Russian athletes was not allowed to march under the Russian flag after the International Olympic Committee decided to uphold a doping ban.
The final medals of the Pyeongchang Games were handed out, to the winners of the long-distance mass start cross-country skiing races.
American athletes 23 won medals at the Olympics, the fourth-most of the Olympics, including nine gold. Norway won 39 medals — the most at any Winter Olympics. Germany and Canada came second and third in the medal standings.
These Games saw breakout performances from athletes as young as teenagers, like 15-year-old Russian figure skating champion Alina Zagitova and 17-year-old gold medal-winning American snowboarders Chloe Kim and Red Gerard, and as old as 35, like U.S. curling skip John Shuster, who guided his team to new heights with five straight wins.
The American medal hual was disappointing, especially in the marquee event of figure skating — Team USA won bronze in the team event and ice dancing, but no individual medals. But there were other highlights, including the first American women's hockey victory since 1998 and Gus Kenworthy, one of the team's first publically out Winter Olympians, sharing a kiss with his boyfriend that was broadcast on TV.
Politics were not as present in the closing ceremony as at the opening, where U.S. Vice President Mike Pence didn't stand when the unified Korean team marched into the stadium. Nor did he shake hands with the sister of dictator Kim Jong Un, who was seated nearby.
President Donald Trump's daughter and adviser, Ivanka Trump, led the American delegation to the closing ceremony. The North Korean delegation was led by Kim Yong Chol, vice chairman of the ruling party's central committee and a former head of the North's military intelligence accused of masterminding a deadly attack on a South Korean warship.
Trump sat near Kim, but wasn't seen interacting with him. Kim stood for the South Korean national anthem.
Korean pop stars were the show-stopping heart of the closing ceremony, with singer CL rapping with flames shooting off around her and boy band EXO riding into the stadium on ATVs.
At the next Winter Games, Beijing may be able to upstage the ceremonies in Pyeongchang. Its performances at the 2008 Summer Games were highly choreographed spectacles remembered as some of the greatest in Olympic history.