LONDON (Reuters) - London bade farewell to the Olympic Games on Sunday with a high-octane romp through British pop music, bringing the curtain down on more than two weeks of action at the end of which the United States topped the sporting world with 46 gold medals.
There was another sellout crowd at the 80,000-capacity athletics stadium in East London for the final act of the tournament, and another 300 million people were expected to tune in on television sets around the world.
Actor Timothy Spall read from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” dressed as war-time Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and after a London “rush hour” featuring real cars and trucks, Prince Harry entered to represent his grandmother Queen Elizabeth.
Boy band One Direction, the Pet Shop Boys and Madness were among the early acts in an exuberant finale that sought to sum up Britain’s enthusiasm for the Games despite earlier reservations about the 9 billion pound ($14 billion) cost.
In the centre of the stage, reconstructions of famous London landmarks such as St Paul’s Cathedral and Tower Bridge provided the backdrop for a “street party”, recalling nationwide celebrations this summer marking the queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
They were then removed to allow thousands of athletes to enter to the strains of Elbow before the music took off with hit after hit accompanied by a spectacular light show created by innovative “pixel boxes” installed on each seat.
The Spice Girls and The Who were also expected to perform, and, after a section devoted to the 2016 Olympic hosts Rio de Janeiro there will be closing speeches and the Olympic Flame is extinguished.
The stadium was the setting for some of the most spectacular moments of the Games, including Jamaican sprint king Usain Bolt defending the 100, 200 and 4x100 meters titles he won in Beijing, the latter in a world-beating time.
British supporters will also cherish memories of the venue, where Somali-born runner Mo Farah won the 5,000 and 10,000 double to deafening roars and was celebrated as a symbol of the capital’s multi-culturalism.
The host nation won 29 golds to take third place in the rankings, its best result for 104 years, which helped lift the nation out of the gloom of an economic recession temporarily buried in the inside pages of the newspapers.
“I will say history has been written by many athletes. The Games were absolutely fabulous. London has absolutely refreshed the Games,” International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge told reporters.
U.S. President Barack Obama called British Prime Minister David Cameron to congratulate Britain on what he called “an extremely successful Olympic games, which speaks to the character and spirit of our close ally”.
Many will remember London 2012 for the record-breaking exploits of American swimmer Michael Phelps, who took his life-time medal haul to 22 including 18 golds, making him the most decorated Olympian in history.
His tally helped the United States to the top of the Olympic table with 46 golds to second-placed China’s 38, reversing the order of the Beijing Games in 2008.
There was, of course, Bolt, the biggest name in athletics and a charismatic ambassador for sprinting.
After winning the 4x100 he went on to a London nightclub to delight dancing fans with a turn as a DJ, shouting out “I am a legend” to the packed dancefloor.
Britons may recall Andy Murray demolishing world number one Roger Federer at Wimbledon to win the men’s singles tennis gold, while Jessica Ennis, the “poster girl” of the Games, won the women’s heptathlon on the first “super Saturday”.
Despite concerns about the creaky transport system and a shortfall of private security guards, which forced the government to call in thousands of extra troops to help screen visitors, the Games have so far passed by fairly trouble-free.
A furor over empty seats at several Olympic venues blew over, especially once the track and field showcase kicked in and drew capacity crowds for virtually every session.
Even the weather improved as the Games wore on. Bright sunshine has graced the closing weekend of a festival that has helped to lift spirits in Britain.
On the last day of sporting action, the U.S. basketball team including the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant downed Spain in a repeat of the final in Beijing in 2008.
Earlier on Sunday, Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda broke away from two Kenyan rivals to win the men’s marathon near Buckingham Palace, and he received his gold medal at the closing ceremony.
The women’s modern pentathlon was the final medal to be decided, and Lithuanian Laura Asadauskaite beat Briton Sam Murray to the gold to round off London’s extravaganza of sport.
It was not all about triumph, however. Many tears shed by athletes and the public were of sorrow, not joy, as medals were narrowly missed and controversial decisions left athletes convinced they were wronged.
At the closing ceremony, a highlights video reel included images of South Korea’s Shin A Lam alone and distraught on the fencing piste after a timekeeping error contributed to her defeat in an epee semi-final.
China’s hero Liu Xiang suffered heartache again after crashing into the first barrier of the 110 sprint hurdles four years after he withdrew from the heats in Beijing due to injury.
Eight Asian badminton players were controversially expelled from the Games after not trying hard enough to win matches, having broken the spirit, but not the rules of their sport.
And China bowed out of the Games with a swipe at the critics who accused teenage swimming sensation Ye Shiwen of doping after her times rivaled the top U.S. men.
Aged just 16, Ye set a world record, a Games record and won two gold medals in the women’s individual medleys, but her victories were overshadowed by questions and insinuations of cheating. There was no evidence that she had broken any rules.
The head of the Chinese delegation to London, Liu Peng, said the accusations were totally unfounded and stressed that China was strongly opposed to any doping “misbehavior”.
“This is really unfair. This is groundless,” Liu told a news conference on Sunday. “There are individuals and media that are accusing, unfounded, our Chinese athletes.”
Reporting by Reuters Olympic team; Editing by Peter Millership and Alison Williams