IOC president declares the 2022 Beijing Olympic Winter Games closed

After an action-packed 16 days of competition, the 2022 Beijing Olympic Winter Games were officially declared closed on Sunday during the closing ceremony at the city's National Stadium, also known as the "Bird's Nest" for its unique web of 35 kilometres of twisting steel.

24th Olympic Winter Games wrapped up at 'Bird's Nest'

Fireworks explode during the closing ceremony of the 2022 Olympic Winter Olympics on Sunday in Beijing. (Bernat Armangue/The Associated Press)

After an action-packed 16 days of competition, the 2022 Beijing Olympic Winter Games were officially declared closed on Sunday during the closing ceremony at the city's National Stadium, also known as the "Bird's Nest" for its unique web of 35 kilometres of twisting steel.

As the ceremony, which was shorter than usual due to cold weather conditions, drew to a close, International Olympic Committee head Thomas Bach not only addressed the athletes, but also made a wish for peace as geopolitical tensions simmer around the world due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

"We were deeply touched how you were wishing and cheering for your competitors to achieve their best as well. You not only respected each other. You supported each other. You embraced each other, even if your countries are divided by conflict," Bach said.

"You overcame these divisions, demonstrating that in this Olympic community we are all equal — regardless of what we look like, where we come from, or what we believe in. This unifying power of the Olympic Games is stronger than the forces that want to divide us: you give peace a chance. 

May the political leaders around the world be inspired by your example of solidarity and peace."

WATCH | Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games closing ceremony:

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While Russian President Vladimir Putin was in attendance for the opening ceremony, many countries, including Canada, announced diplomatic boycotts of Beijing 2022 over concerns of human rights abuses in China.

Bach continued to strike a political tone when he acknowledged the difficulties brought by the pandemic and urged the international community to ensure vaccines are made available "for everybody around the world."

He then declared the Beijing Games closed.

"In accordance with tradition, I call upon the youth of the world to assemble four years from now in Milano Cortina, Italy, to celebrate with all of us the 25th Olympic Winter Games."

Volunteers carrying each country's flag then gathered together in the centre of the stadium as the Olympic rings rose from the ground, passing the snowflake cauldron as it was lowered. As the children once again sang the Olympic theme, as well as the Beijing 2022 theme You and Me, the Olympic torch was extinguished.

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As is customary, the ceremony ended with a fireworks display that included the Olympic rings, as well as the Chinese characters and English words "One world one family." A dance of golden dragons gave way to a golden ring.

Earlier, after Bach and China's President Xi Jinping entered the stadium, the closing ceremony got underway in much the same way as the opening ceremony ended: with the lighting of the unconventional Olympic cauldron, which for Beijing was in fact a giant snowflake with the Olympic torch inside.

The snowflake theme that ran throughout the opening ceremony continued for the closing ceremony, as children using snowflake-shaped lanterns lit up an emblem on the stadium floor inspired by the Chinese character for "winter."

The lanterns also marked the Chinese tradition of lighting lanterns in the days leading up to and following the fifteenth day of the Lunar New Year, known as the Yuanxiao Festival. The closing ceremony fell on the 20th day of the Lunar New Year.

After the Chinese flag was raised and anthem played, the athletes began parading in to the stadium. Team Canada was led by speed skater Isabelle Weidemann, three-time medallist at these Games, who was unveiled as flag-bearer Sunday morning in Beijing (Saturday evening in Canada). Weidemann won a medal of each colour — gold, silver and bronze — as part of a successful Team Canada campaign that saw the country claim a total of 26 medals: four gold, eight silver and 14 bronze.

WATCH | Isabelle Weidemann carries Canadian flag into closing ceremony:

Just over 100 of the 215 Canadian athletes who competed were still in Beijing at the end of the Games to attend the closing ceremony. Many who finished competing early on left Beijing in accordance with strict COVID-19 safety protocols that were in place for the entire Games, including a so-called closed loop system that kept athletes and coaches, officials and media bubbled together.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released a statement on Sunday congratulating the country's Olympians.

"As we celebrate our Olympians and their 26 medals, let us also recognize the years of training, sacrifice, and perseverance it took them to get this far and the many challenges they've had to overcome, including the COVID-19 pandemic," Trudeau said. "With courage and dedication, all members of Team Canada delivered incredible performances at this year's Games, inspiring Canadians of all ages."

Athletes from Canada march into the stadium during the closing ceremony of the 2022 Olympic Winter Games on Sunday in Beijing. (Natacha Pisarenko/The Associated Press)

As the athletes paraded in, a traditional Chinese knot appeared on the floor of the stadium to mark China's connection with the world and the Olympic spirit of togetherness. The knot was rendered with augmented reality (AR) technology and presented in high definition — no physical knot was present.

As the athletes walked in to the sounds of Beethoven's infamous Ode to Joy, giant skates in the shapes of the 12 animals that make up the Chinese zodiac zoomed around the stadium floor. 

Short-track speed skater Charles Hamelin, who competed in his fifth and final Games and won gold in the men's relay for his sixth Olympic medal, said the team is still relishing its win.

"We're still on the roll of partying and having fun with everyone," Hamelin said before marching into the stadium. "It's something that you get [to do] only one time when you're at the Olympics."

As is custom at the closing ceremony, a medal ceremony for a late event was held. In this case, cross-country skiing medals were awarded for the women's 30 km and men's 50 km mass start free events. At previous Olympics, a medal ceremony was only held for a men's event. But beginning last summer in Tokyo, medals were handed out in a men's and women's event in an ongoing effort to bring more gender equity to the Games.

After a moment to recognize the Games' many volunteers and the introduction of the new members of the IOC's athletes' commission, a little bit of Canadian content appeared in the soundtrack to a video montage of top moments from the Games. The highlight reel went along to the song You Can Get It by Hamilton, Ont., band Arkells, featuring K.Flay.

Before the Greek flag was raised and anthem played was the customary moment of remembrance. For Beijing, that included a willow twig, which is given when two good friends part ways, a custom that dates back thousands of years in China. The Chinese character for "willow" is also a homophone for the character for "staying," or "longing," making the willow a symbol not only of friendship, but also of longing for loved ones.

As the Olympic flag was lowered, the Malanhua'er Children's Choir from the mountains of Fuping country, Hebei province, returned for the closing ceremony to sing the Olympic anthem. As it is customary to wear new clothes after the Lunar New Year, the children wore different costumes that were adorned with patterns representing prosperity for the new year.

The children sang the Olympic anthem in Greek, which took them three months to learn.

The flag was then handed over to the mayors of Milan and Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy, which will host the next Olympic Winter Games in 2026. Organizers note that Milano Cortina 2026 will mark the first time an Olympics will be hosted by two cities, two regions (Lombardia and Veneto) and two provinces (Trento and Bolzano), representing two distinct but complementary areas: the city and the mountains.

WATCH | Milan-Cortina will host the 2026 Olympic Winter Games:

Just as Beijing 2022 marked the first time a city has hosted two Olympics (the first was the 2008 Summer Games), Cortina hosted the Winter Olympic in 1956.

Organizers of the 2026 Games had a few moments in the closing ceremony to preview the event, and chose to highlight the main vision: harmony between mankind and nature. First, the Italian anthem was interpreted by two musicians from the two regions, singer Malika Ayane and violinist Giovanni Andrea Zanon.

Viewers were then taken on a video tour of the two cities alongside two unknown characters, who then appeared live in the National Stadium to perform a pas de deux as the souls of the mountains and the city, showing the importance of a "respectful dialogue" between mankind and nature.

In the spirit of sustainability, some 92 per cent of venues for the 2026 Games already exist.

WATCH | Sights and sounds from the 2022 Beijing Olympic Winter Games:

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