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Flame is extinguished, but spirit lights up night


So who needs an Olympic flame?

The extinguishing of the flame signified the start of an explosion of fireworks, music and dance as the 16th Winter Olympics drew to a rousing close last night.

The skies above the Savoy were ablaze with color -- indeed, the night turned into day -- as this mountain region bid au revoir to the world and its athletes, most of whom danced far into the night.

Before the party, there was, of course, some protocol, although it took a mighty effort by the organizers to clear the stadium floor of parading volunteers to get things under way.

Bells pealed to signify the opening of the official program. As ice dancers whirled, the evening's emcee entered on a ski lift rigged above the arena. His first order of business, of course, was to introduce the athletes.

The flag bearers entered, accompanied by the human snow globes featured in the opening ceremony. Speed skater Bonnie Blair, who won two gold medals, carried the U.S. flag.

And then came the rest of the athletes, streaming into the stadium in carefree fashion, in stark contrast to their formal marching in the opening ceremony. The Italians waved flags. The Dutch formed a conga line and then pretended to be in-line speed skaters. The Canadians tossed frisbees and trinkets to the crowd as they entered and even took over the stage for a short time so three athletes could do back flips. Well, two of three, anyway.

Once the athletes finally -- reluctantly -- made it to their seats, the business of the closing of the Games was conducted. First, there was the traditional Greek anthem, then the French anthem, then the Norwegian anthem, in honor of the 1994 Games in Lillehammer and finally the Olympic anthem.

The Olympic flag was passed from the mayor of Albertville to the mayor of Lillehammer, followed by an almost operatic scene featuring a Nordic queen on a white bear leading a viking ship. Music rolled like thunder, and popping flash bulbs provided the lightning.

As the announcer intoned, "See you in 1994," a huge, lighted "Lillehammer 1994" sign appeared over the entrance to the stadium.

But the French officials weren't quite finished.

Michel Barnier, president of the French Olympic organizing committee, told the crowd, "The Olympic torch will thus be put out. However, there is no doubt that a little ray resembling it will shine within us for a long time.

"Lillehammer, Norway, now has the safekeeping of the Olympic flag. We wholeheartedly hope that they will know the same pride and the same excitement that we have experienced."

With that, the Olympic flag was lowered by a silver-suited acrobat, and the flags of the nations marched out of the stadium, led by the French and Norwegian flags together.

More entertainment followed, the same sort of cabaret featured in the opening ceremony. There were dancers, skaters, cyclists and acrobats with oversized toys that looked like jacks or tinker toys.

The athletes sat politely through the formal presentations, but when an enormous circle of Savoy folk dancers took the stage, the crowd erupted. Spectators stomped and clapped. Whole sections of athletes were swaying, and dancing broke out in the aisles.

By the time the flame actually was extinguished, there was so much electricity in the air the night was alive. And when fireworks showered the skies with brilliant sparks, there was no darkness, only endless light.

"All the Savoy cherished the chance to have held in its heart these Olympic Games," the announcer exclaimed as the dance of celebration -- and parting -- began.

Afterward, on the roads out of town, visitors passed under signs that read, "Merci."

Service for Bochatay

A memorial service was held in the church at the athletes' village in Brides-Les-Bains for Nicolas Bochatay, a Swiss speed skier killed when he crashed into a ski trail-grooming machine.

Among those attending the service were Swiss athletes, coaches and officials, French figure skater Paul Duschesnay, Brides-Les-Bains Mayor Jean Francois Chedal and former French ski star Perrine Pelen-Mazzega, manager of the athletes' village.

Jean-Claude Killy, co-president of the organizing committee, also paid tribute to Bochatay during a news conference.

National police are investigating Saturday's accident. Organizing committee officials said they had no details of the probe.

Pinning it down

More than 350,000 people traded more than 1 million pins at official pin centers during the Winter Olympics, according to the company that ran the centers.

A release from the Coca-Cola Co., said that the hottest pins included U.S. ice hockey pins and any figure skating pin.

Also coveted were pins by the new teams competing in the Winter Games from Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Croatia.

An especially hard-to-get pin was a Dream Team, issued by the NBA in preparation for the Summer Olympics in Barcelona.

Wylie gets spirit award

Paul Wylie, the surprise runner-up in men's figure skating, received the U.S. Olympic Spirit Award and said the award capped "the most exciting three weeks of my life."

The award, voted by members of the U.S. media, is given to the athlete who exceeded expectations going into the Games.

The quote

"I'll be nearly 28, an old man, by the next Olympics, but no doubt I will be among the starters in 1994. I want to add another Olympic medal to my record. I miss the bronze in my collection, but I would love to end my Olympic streak with another gold." -- Downhill skier Alberto Tomba on his aspirations for the 1994 Winter Games

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