Did you watch Japan win gold in gymnastics?" an enthusiastic young Japanese woman asked me as the Olympic closing ceremony was about to begin.
I had to admit that I didn't watch Kohei Uchimura win the men's gymnastic floor exercise, but during these past two weeks I've watched athletes performing many other unusual activities: playing volleyball on a fake beach, cycling around in circles at breakneck speed. Fans have good-naturedly cheered them on, aided by the London Games' exceptionally well-trained and friendly staff.
At the Olympic closing ceremony, the fans were again there to cheer their athletes on. "Ah, I just love the Dutch," one of the Games' volunteers told me as a Dutch fan gave him a Dutch mini-flag. "They're always so friendly." Then, turning to the fan: "Come on, man, give me a kiss." But the Dutchman was already busy distributing flags to other Olympic staff.
Meanwhile, the international harmony continued as Swedish fans posed with Iranians, while a group of young Frenchmen made new friends from Indonesia and Spaniards kissed Jamaicans. In fact, the London Games have proven -- as the Olympics always should -- that national pride doesn't have to be aggressive.
"The visitors have been very nice and calm," a security guard told me, referring to the 80,000 people who were streaming in for the closing ceremony.
Nowhere is that Olympic national pride more obvious than here in the host country. Yes, Britain finished third in gold medals, its best result in a century, but following the British media coverage one could easily get the impression that no other country has won any medals. Indeed, the Olympics have done Britain a lot of good, not just in financial terms. People are suddenly proud to be British, as opposed to English, Welch, Northern Irish or Scottish. Scotland's planned independence is now uncertain.
As fans continued their cross-border love-in inside the Olympic Park, a large group of Islamists were holding a protest just outside the gates. "UN go to hell! Assad [Syria's president] go to hell! Burma go to hell! Hands off Muslims! Allah Akhbar!" they shouted in an increasingly hostile manner. A young African strolled over and tried to calm the Islamists down: "Jesus saves, man." But, I submit, inside the Olympic stadium quite a few people would say, "Usain Bolt saves, man."
Shut it down
The British brought out the big guns of music to throw a real closing party.
A video of John Lennon performing “Imagine” grabbed attention, while the music of Queen, Pink Floyd, The Who, and The Kinks all appeared.
London gets a dose of Girl Power in Olympics
It was fitting to have the originators of Girl Power — the Spice Girls — close out an Olympics that was the most dominant for women in history.
Not only did every country send at least one female representative for the first time, the U.S. team was dominated by performances from the ladies.
They won 29 of the 46 gold medals the United States won and 58 of the 104 total. It was the first time women had outmedaled their male counterparts — and it wasn’t even close.
From Allyson Felix winning three golds on the track to Missy Franklin taking home four in the pool, the U.S. women dominated. And forget about team sports, where the basketball, water polo and soccer teams all won gold.