The Olympic flame burns prior to the Closing Ceremony in the Olympic Stadium at the Summer Olympics on Sunday in Tokyo.

Aaron Favila/AP

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Aaron Favila/AP

The Olympic flame burns prior to the Closing Ceremony in the Olympic Stadium at the Summer Olympics on Sunday in Tokyo.

Aaron Favila/AP

TOKYO – The closing ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics has started, wrapping up more than two weeks of athletic competition and the largest international gathering to take place during the pandemic.

The ceremony will celebrate the athletes and the organizers of the postponed Tokyo Games. The organizers say they’re trying to let the athletes take a deep breath and relax.

Perhaps most poignantly, they’ll try to use artistic elements to show the athletes a taste of ordinary life in Japan, something they haven’t been exposed to due to pandemic restrictions.

And the Japanese organizers will ultimately pass the torch to the next city hosting a Summer Games – Paris.

A moment to relax, and move forward

After the heated competition of the Games, the ceremony organizers are trying to create an atmosphere of relaxation for the athletes and spectators, acknowledging that the “atmosphere was far tenser than usual.” They hope the ambience will allow people watching “to look back on the Olympic Games while also looking toward the future.”

Of course, this event is happening in a stadium with only dignitaries and a small group of press in the seats. And the actual group of competitors who will be present at the Parade of Athletes will be much smaller that usual, because they were required to depart shortly after their competition wrapped up.

The organizers say the Closing Ceremony is celebrating the world coming together to make these Games happen, despite the enormous challenges.

Celebrating the last 17 days of competition

The ceremony will kick off with a video showing some highlights from the events of the Games, and fireworks will go off. They’re celebrating the efforts of the athletes, not medals in particular.

A musical theater troupe will perform the national anthem, wearing formal traditional Japanese dress.

When the athletes enter, they will all come together and form the shape of the Olympic rings on the field. Unlike the Opening Ceremony, when each walked in as a group with their compatriots, the athletes will all walk in together. According to the organizers, it’s the first Closing Ceremony where the athletes will all come in en masse.

Bringing the athletes into Tokyo

The athletes have not been able to explore Tokyo during their time at the Games due to pandemic restrictions. For nearly 15 minutes, the field will be transformed into an “imaginary park in Tokyo,” to try to give them the impression of being around ordinary life and outside the Olympic bubble.

It’s a bittersweet acknowledgement that despite a full competition schedule, the kind of cultural exchange that usually characterizes the Olympics was not possible for these athletes.

The ceremony will also take a moment to remember and reflect on the difficult past year. It will also highlight various traditional festivals from around Japan, another way to show the athletes more about the country.

The program will end with a handover to the Paris organizers, and a preview of the Games to come there in 2024. Finally, the Olympic flame will be put out, officially drawing the Games to a close.

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