WHAT A BLAST!
Toronto shines brightly as 17-day sporting and cultural spectacle comes to a close with star-studded ceremony and a record medal haul for the host country
While the closing ceremony shut the door on the 2015 Pan Am Games, it left another one wide open — for the Olympics. Unlike the somewhat meandering opening ceremony, which was created by Quebec’s Cirque du Soleil, the closing ceremony was efficient and did not indulge in abstractions. The message was crystal clear: we did it. “Tonight is more than a closing ceremony, it’s a victory celebration. It’s your victory celebration,” said Toronto 2015 chief executive Saad Rafi.
Perhaps in an effort to show just how much weight this city has, organizers clinched notorious loudmouth and
enfant terrible Kanye West to headline the musical portion of the night.
More than 20,000 people had signed a petition demanding that West not perform, with many saying they would prefer another rapper, Toronto native Drake, in his stead. Yet West entered the Rogers Centre to a roar of applause, like a champ.
With the lights on for half his set, he performed directly for the athletes near the stage. In his last song, his mic seemed to cut out and he threw it in the air before skipping off stage. Organizers said this was planned, just part of the Kanye flair.
The transition to Serena Ryder’s music video for her official Pan Am anthem, “Together We Are One,” didn’t skip a beat. Ryder performed the song earlier, having opened the set with some of her hits.
West may have been the headliner but it was Pitbull who really shone, both literally and figuratively. He was so energetic and in command of the room that beads of sweat poured from his bald head. Singing in both Spanish and English, he was an undeniable hit.
The lightning-speed transitions between musical acts were par for the course throughout the evening. Ultimately, each moment was orchestrated to highlight the impact Toronto had on the Games and to drive home the benefits of hosting it.
A whirlwind dance tour of Toronto’s many ethnic communities showcased what the city has to offer, and flickering images on the screen behind the stage paraded happy Torontonians taking advantage of Pan Am facilities and events.
“In you we saw truly magnificent examples of the better, the brighter side of human nature that puts community first,” said Rafi as he thanked the 23,000 volunteers who made the games possible.
Ivar Sisniega, vice-president of the Pan American Sports Organization, did his part to bolster the city’s Olympic dreams, applauding Toronto for its “Olympic-level Pan Am village, Olympic-level sports facilities, and Olympic-level organization.”
“You have every right to dream and imagine one day hosting the Olympic games.”
To keep things running smoothly, the flag ceremony was shortened with all athletes entering at the same time, but that didn’t stop the crowd from cheering extra loudly when they saw Canada’s flag and its bearer, women’s basketball star Kia Nurse.
The choice of Nurse as Canada’s representative was only fitting. This year proved to be a turning point for women in the Games, with women making up more than 45 per cent of all athletes. Nurse helped Canada achieve a landmark gold medal in women’s basketball, its first. Canadian women dominated not just their respective events but the games as a whole, notably water-skier Whitney McClintock and gymnast Ellie Black.
The Toronto games proved more exciting than perhaps anyone anticipated, with Canada shattering its previous best, set at the 1999 Winnipeg games, and taking home 217 medals in total, including 78 gold medals.
In contrast to the frenzied anticipation of the opening ceremony, the feeling of the crowd going into the closing ceremony was akin to joyful exhaustion.
For many, the night was their one chance to participate in the hullaballoo that had taken over the city for the past few weeks.
“Canada’s performed beautifully,” said Andria Spindel, who attended the ceremony with her daughter.
They hadn’t been able to get to any live events and instead had to cheer on the athletes in front of the television at home. So Sunday night was their last chance to cheer in person.
“(It was) an opportunity to celebrate the commotion,” said Spindel.