"Last time sir?" said the security man at the gate. "Welcome."
The reception on entering the Olympic Park for the final time on Sunday was typical of the warmth that has been almost as much of a defining feature of the London Games as the sporting performances.
On the media bus to the stadium, for the Closing Ceremony, we skirted the athletes' village, semi-hidden behind high fences patrolled by security guards. Every day for the past fortnight this bus journey has offered tantalising glimpses over the fence, into this secret world on the edge of the Olympic Park, made up of modern apartment blocks and pleasant outdoor spaces and swarming with 10,490 athletes.
Nothing in the opening or closing ceremonies could match the sport.
Quotes of the week
The flags remained in the windows - entire blocks of Union Jacks, Turkish and German flags, with the Luxembourg colours occupying just one window - but it looked a more laidback place on Sunday. The tables outside the cafe were full, though there were still athletes running on the perimeter road within the village. Probably training for Rio.
We trundled on - at the permitted 10mph - past the BMX track and the velodrome, the basketball arena and hockey stadium, the Copper Box and waterpolo pool - all eerily quiet - until eventually we arrived at the heart of Olympic Park, the main stadium.
Inside, it was hard to believe that this was where Mo Farah had kicked for home at the end of the 5,000 metres the previous evening, and, later, Usain Bolt anchored the Jamaican sprint relay team to a new world record.
I was in the stadium for Farah's run, which was extraordinary for the way it unfolded and the tension built. It owed everything to the way that he ran, slowly at first, a yard or so off the back of the pack. Perhaps his victory in the 10,000 metres had taken too much out of him. Seven nights on, he didn't seem to have the same zip.
But as the race wore on, and Farah began to overtake other runners and move through the pack, the 80,000 crowd began to hope, and the more they hoped, the more noise they made. When he sprinted around that final lap, and by some miracle held off all challengers on the final bend, it reached its ear-splitting crescendo.
Twenty-four hours later, this field of dreams fulfilled was in the process of being transformed into... well, what? It was hard to tell: where there had been a running track, there was now a pale grey road. And there was a mini London rising up in the middle: replicas of the London Eye, Big Ben and Tower Bridge. And black cabs wrapped in newspaper.
As the ceremony got underway, instead of Farah and Bolt, we had something a little slower: a recreaction of the great British rush hour. A cause for celebration? And grey-suited cyclists in pointy orange hats. And dancers, and drummers, some with huge drums attached to their feet, and acrobats, and Madness, the Pet Shop Boys, and then Ray Davies for a fine rendition of Waterloo Sunset.
Inexplicably, the biggest cheer of the night seemed to be for the Spice Girls, but the next loudest, and more deserved, was for the outstanding volunteers, and then for the athletes, who were introduced after 30 minutes and began to filter into the stadium while Elbow played them in.
But even the noise for the Spice Girls came nowhere close to equalling that registered at 7.42pm on Saturday, 11 August, for Farah. If West Ham play in this stadium and one day win the Premier League here, it won't match that.
Nothing in the opening or closing ceremonies could match the sport. The opening ceremony was exceptional, the closing event a bit of an afterthought, like these events so often are, but nothing was a patch on the sport.
The lesson is that if you put the sport centre stage, and under the magical Olympic banner, then the rest takes care of itself. Over the last two weeks, the Games have been all about the games and the people who play them.
As they came to a close, with the athletes in the stadium and penned into sections that formed the eight different segments of the Union Jack, the night turned into a music festival, with Take That and The Who raising the tempo to finish, after the formalities of the speeches, a spectacular extinguishing of the cauldron, and the handover to Rio.
"When our time came, Britain, we did it right," said Sebastian Coe, to rousing cheers. Then Jacques Rogge, the IOC president, describing the Games as "happy and glorious," said that people's enthusiasm had provided the "soundtrack" as he praised the atmosphere in all the venues.
The closing ceremony was a celebration that had its moments, but seemed low-key, and at times off-key. It did not live up to what we have seen these last two weeks. Then again, what on Earth could?
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L F says...
Lets use the occasion too celebrate British fashion greats, Victoria Beckham?
Posted 21:16 13th August 2012
Lucy Turner says...
The closing of the olympic games was brill because there was lots of fire works and the lighting of it was so colourfull but the thing i liked about some of it was the singing but some of it was off key but the rest of it was very good say well done to every olympic person that tried their best for their contry and well done all olympic people xx lucy turnerxx
Posted 18:33 13th August 2012
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