On February 24, 2002, Willie Nelson performed “Bridge Over Troubled Water” during the closing ceremony of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. Martina McBride and Donny and Marie Osmond also performed at the ceremonies.
SALT LAKE CITY, Feb. 24— Beneath the snowy Wasatch Range and in front of a bedazzled, swaying crowd of 44,929, the 19th Winter Olympics came to a dynamic and celebratory end tonight. Fears of terrorism long gone, protests of days past shelved for the night, athletes from 78 nations marched into Rice-Eccles Stadium in a rambunctious mood and took their seats for the most ornate conclusion ever to a Winter Games.
After 17 days, 234 medals and all the theater and human majesty in between, Utah bade farewell to the sporting event it wanted so desperately. The state and its people were rewarded with a reinvigoration of the Winter Games — and by a closing ceremony collage of colors, music and harmony.
In a gaudy and grand celebration, canisters of fluorescent pastel paint were dumped on the ice by dancers, à la Jackson Pollock. Huge white beach balls descended from the stands. Monstrous helium balloons, carrying gyrating gymnasts dressed as skiers and snowboarders, hovered overhead.
Earth, Wind and Fire played and sang, an unannounced Willie Nelson broke into a soulful rendition of ”Bridge Over Troubled Water,” and 780 children in Eskimo parkas carry ing lanterns ended one segment with ”Happy Trails to You,” as they skated in a long, straggling line, off the ice and into a chilly night.
The sentimental portion of the program over, a pyrotechnic barrage began north of the stadium. Workers at 11 launch sites in the valley around the stadium ignited $1 million worth of fireworks — 10,000 shells that spectacularly lit the mountains for nearly five minutes as the Olympic anthem blared through the stadium.
Dr. Jacques Rogge, the International Olympic Committee president, called the first Winter Olympiad in the United States since 1980 ”unforgettable” and ”inspiring.”
”People of America, Utah and Salt Lake City, you have given the world superb Games,” Rogge, the successor to Juan Antonio Samaranch, said during his first closing ceremony speech.
He had vowed beforehand not to echo Samaranch’s ”best Olympic Games ever” remark, bestowed on Sydney, Australia, in 2000 but not on Atlanta four years earlier.
Keeping with the tone of the evening, Mitt Romney, the Salt Lake Organizing Committee president, praised the Olympians, the fans and more than 30,000 volunteers. He also seemed to encapsulate Utah’s dual feelings of ecstasy and relief by opening his remarks with ”Salt Lake City . . . we did it!”
A mosaic of American pop culture took turns entertaining the masses. Seventy-five-foot dinosaurs straight from the ”Lion King” set design peered over the stadium, trying out their comedy. The voices belonged to the Utah siblings and icons Donnie and Marie Osmond. Musical acts ranging from Christina Aguilera to Bon Jovi to Harry Connick Jr. to Kiss sang and played well into the night.
Most longtime observers of the closing ceremony said the festivities were on par with the most impressive end to any Summer Games they had witnessed and beyond any imaginable conclusion to a Winter Games.
The three-hour party began when the flag was raised by five American Indian war veterans, one for each of Utah’s indigenous tribes. The national anthem was sung a capella by ‘N Sync. A boy band seemed only apropos, with such attention paid to a younger audience and its fascination with newfangled winter sports like snowboarding and moguls skiing.