Coundown Begins as Olympic baton is handed over to Britain

Posted on 11:56 PM by Sameer Shah

With a wave of the Olympic flag, the countdown to London 2012 began last night.

As the Beijing Games came to a spectacular end, London Mayor Boris Johnson gave a flamboyant foretaste of the individual style that can be expected in four years' time.

As he walked to the centre stage to receive the flag he had his hands in his pockets, and cut a characteristically rumpled figure beside immaculately dressed Olympic chiefs.

Watched in the stadium by Gordon Brown and Princess Anne, the blunder-prone Mayor waved the flag four times as the whole of Britain - among a global TV audience of 1.5billion - willed him not to drop it.

The Union Jack was raised, the National Anthem sung by a choir and after the extraordinary success of Tea GB at Beijing, the challenge for London was: How do you follow that?

At the heart of the closing ceremony was a cameo eight-minute performance to showcase London. Its quirky flavour contrasted with the perfectly- orchestrated Chinese extravaganza with its vast numbers, extraordinary colourful special effects, a blitz of fireworks and breathtaking artistry.

While Beijing used hundreds of drummers - some suspended 60ft above the stadium - acrobats, and opera with Spanish tenor Placido Domingo paired with Chinese soprano Song Zuying, London's contribution included a double-decker bus and a lollipop lady.

'We looked at a dining table and saw an opportunity to play whiff whaff.

'That is why London is the sporting capital of the world.

'And I say to the Chinese, and I say to the world: Ping pong is coming home, athletics is coming home, sport is coming home.'

Mr Johnson said ''virtually every single one' of the modern Olympic sports was 'either invented or codified by the British'.

But he said he 'mourned the passing' of the Ancient Greek pankration event 'whose chief exponent was Milo of Croton, whose signature performance involved carrying an ox the length of the stadium, killing it with his bare hands and then eating it on the same day.'

He joked he was trying to persuade London Olympic chiefs to bring it back for 2012.

Despite criticisms of the Chinese capital's pollution and human rights abuses, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge underlined that Beijing, with its magnificent stadiums and facilities, will be a tough act to follow.

He told those inside the Bird's Nest : 'We come to the end of 16 glorious days which we will cherish forever.

'These were truly exceptional Games. And now, in accordance with tradition, I declare the Games of the 29th Olympiad closed, and I call upon the youth of the world to assemble four years from now in London to celebrate the Games of the 30th Olympiad.'


At least 40 members of the British Olympic team are expected to be nominated for honours in recognition of their achievements.

Athletes and officials have been told they are 'in for a shock' when they step off the British Airways plane from Beijing today.

Cyclist Victoria Pendleton said: 'It is surreal, we have been in something of a bubble here so don't really know what to expect. Everyone is pretty excited.'

She is one of 19 gold medallists expected to receive at least an MBE, with cyclist Chris Hoy, who won three golds in Beijing, and sailor Ben Ainslie, who has won gold at three successive Games, tipped for knighthoods.

There will also be nominations for those behind the scenes whose tireless hard work and expertise has helped build the most successful Olympic team since the London Games of 1908.

Britain won 19 golds, 13 silvers and 15 bronzes in 11 sports and finished fourth in the medals table, behind China, the U.S. and Russia.

The British performance began with the red double-decker bus, with London-Beijing-London emblazoned on its side, driving around the track inside the stadium followed on bicycles by British gold medal winning cyclists Chris Hoy, dressed as a City gent in bowler hat, Jamie Staff and Victoria Pendleton.

As dancers performed around it, tenyearold Londoner Tayyiba Dudhwala, who had been chosen in a Blue Peter competition, emerged and was given a football by another London youngster, Erika Tham.

Singer Leona Lewis, winner of the X Factor TV show, spiralled from the roof of the bus to be joined by Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page blasting out 'Whole Lotta Love'.

Bizarrely, the sides of the bus were made of grass, apparently to symbolise the sporting fields of London.

To a massive and sustained cheer, David Beckham emerged from the top of the bus to kick a football into the hordes of athletes crowded into the centre of the vast venue.

It was one of the army of Chinese volunteers who had given their time to help who caught - and kept - the ball.

Hi-tech umbrellas, symbolic of Britain's rain, then covered the bus, forming a screen of images before the bus, transformed into a carnival float, headed out of the stadium to warm applause.

The official Closing Ceremony programme said the performance 'highlights the artistic creativity, energy and passion for sport, art and culture that London and the UK will bring to the 2012 Games'.

Later Mr Johnson attended a party for Team GB athletes and officials, who had contributed towards Britain's most successful Games for a century.

He had his listeners in stitches as he told them that Britain had invented table tennis, the game beloved of the Chinese.

Its origins, he told the crowd, lay in the dining rooms of Victorian England when the game was known as 'whiff whaff'.

He said: 'I say this respectfully to our Chinese hosts who have excelled so magnificently at ping pong.

'Ping pong was invented on the dining tables of England in the 19th century and it was called whiff whaff.

'That is the essential difference between us and the rest of the world.

'Other nations - the French - looked at a dining table and saw an opportunity to have dinner.

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