An Olympics that began with the death of a luger ended last night with an exuberant celebration of Canada - reflecting a determined comeback by the host country's organizers and athletes.
A festive crowd of 60,000 jammed into BC Place Stadium for the closing ceremony, many of them Canadians abuzz over the overtime victory by their men's hockey team earlier in the day.
The gaiety contrasted sharply with the moment of silence at the opening ceremony Feb. 12 for Nodar Kumaritashvili, the 21-year-old luger killed in a horrific training-run crash on the sliding track in Whistler, British Columbia, just hours before that ceremony.
"The games started in very difficult conditions . . . No one will forget that," International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said before the closing. "However, you have to be fair to the organizers, you have to be fair to the Canadians, and you have to be fair to athletes and judge the games on their own merit - without forgetting what happened before."
Canadian officials ensured there would be some poignancy at the closing ceremony as well, selecting figure skater Joannie Rochette as their flagbearer. Her mother died of a heart attack hours after arriving in Vancouver last weekend, but Rochette chose to carry on and won a bronze medal, inspiring her teammates and fans around the world.
"Yes, it's been a tough week for me," she said before the ceremony. "But I walk tonight into that stadium with a big smile on my face . . . I accomplished my goals, and I want to celebrate with my teammates."
The U.S. flagbearer was Bill Demong, a veteran of four Olympics who won a gold and silver medal in Nordic combined.
The U.S. won 37 medals overall - the most ever for any nation in a Winter Olympics.
Canada, after a slow start, set a Winter Games record with 14 golds and sparked public enthusiasm in Vancouver that veterans of multiple Olympics described as unsurpassed.
Norway's Petter Northug won his second gold medal, and fourth overall, using his trademark sprint to overtake Germany's Axel Teichmann on the final straightaway and capture the 50-kilometer classical cross-country race.
Northug finished in 2 hours, 5 minutes, 35.5 seconds, with Teichmann 0.3 seconds back for the silver medal. Johan Olsson of Sweden took bronze, a second back.
Dutch speedskater Sven Kramer is considering changing his relationship with the coach whose mistake cost him a gold medal.
Kramer said it was possible a new coach could be joining him for the lead-up to the Sochi Olympics in 2014. But that did not mean current coach Gerard Kemkers would be leaving.