Britain and Canada look ahead as flame goes out
As a chicken emerged from the pit housing the broken leg of the Olympic cauldron, Vancouver organisers sent a clear message: the 2010 Winter Games have recovered from a faltering start to end on a successful, buoyant note.
The beginning of the closing ceremony saw the fourth strut of the indoor cauldron - which failed to activate as the Games opened, more than two weeks ago - finally lifted into place, in front of the world, with a sense of humour and self-deprecating style.
Closing ceremonies can, by their nature, become sad affairs. They look back at what has gone before, at events so fresh in the mind that it seems too soon for retrospectives. They look ahead to a future so distant, it feels barely relevant.
But what happens next is important for Canada, and for Great Britain - on and off the field of play.
Canada began its closing ceremony by acknowledging a mistake from the opening ceremony
For most of Britain's winter sports athletes, the question is what their target now becomes.
Arguments surrounding funding body UK Sport's three-medal target, and more broadly how that funding is allocated, will rage on elsewhere. But the stated pledge of UK Sport is to invest purely in "athletes and sports who we believe have a genuine opportunity of winning medals".
Only one Briton took that opportunity in Vancouver: Amy Williams. The 27-year-old, who eclipsed skeleton team-mate Shelley Rudman's silver in Turin four years ago, is one of the liveliest and most striking members of the British team. Rudman carried the British flag at the opening ceremony; Williams had the honour at the close.
In October last year, I met her at the British skeleton team's training facility in Bath. To describe it as such makes it sound as though a full track exists, but you will find no breakneck chutes of ice - just a small hill with a metal tray on rails, attached to a bungee cord. I wrote in more detail about it at the time.
Williams bubbled with enthusiasm as we spoke. She is a character: loud, extroverted, immensely approachable and prepared to say what she thinks. She kept her profile low in the run-up to the Games, and maybe that helped her take gold. While Canada's Mellisa Hollingsworth broke under extraordinary pressure as the home favourite, and Rudman struggled to master the track, Williams kept her composure.
Her challenge is to retain that composure as an Olympic gold medallist - no easy task, as BBC Sport's own previous Olympic winners have explained. When we spoke to her at the side of the Whistler track, moments after her victory, she struggled to grasp how fans at the sidelines knew her name: "I've no idea who they are," she said, staring at her name painted on their stomachs. "They know me, though." Get used to it.
But the British team has wider challenge in identifying reasons for the gap between UK Sport's expectations and the reality, and finding solutions once those reasons come to light.
The Winter Olympic team has four years to close that gap. London's Summer Olympic organisers, however, already face the intense, worldwide scrutiny which accompanies the Games.
They have lessons to draw from Vancouver. Things have gone wrong here - nobody should die competing in any sport and, while the weather cannot be tamed, it can be accommodated. But the Games recovered in a spirited, determined and optimistic fashion, and most of the operation visible to me has been difficult to fault.
The comedic light touch with which Vancouver put the failure of the Olympic cauldron to bed is instructive. Obstacles can be overcome, defeats can be followed by victories. London faces a big challenge to generate the same enthusiasm for the Games as witnessed here from Canadians, but, to reverse one of the British team's slogans, nothing is impossible.
And speaking of Vancouver, what happens next in Canada is a question that fascinates the host nation's media, many of whom were astonished by the outpouring of national pride that accompanied the Games.
Stephen Brunt, sportswriter for the country's Globe and Mail newspaper, summed it up as follows:
"Come Monday morning, come the weeks and months and years after that, who knows if there will even be a hint left behind of what has happened here beyond a short hangover? Whether all of those jerseys and flags and maple leaf hats will gather dust in some closet, like artifacts of a graduation, of a wedding, other signpost moments that are over, and gone."
As a visitor, it is hard to imagine Vancouver without the flags, cowbells and maple leaf regalia. But many Canadians insist they are not in keeping with the country's mindset. Some even worry it makes them "look American", or at least like the Canadian stereotype of their southern neighbours.
It feels as though most people here would love to keep this feeling going - prolong the sensation, hold on to each other having discovered that, actually, everybody feels that way.
Whether it can be sustained in the absence of an Olympic catalyst remains to be seen, though it certainly manifested itself at the closing ceremony. The entire arena rose in applause on several occasions, most notably when commemorating Nodar Kumaritashvili's death, and on chief organiser John Furlong's mention of earlier events in Canada Hockey Place.
With that in so many minds, the closing ceremony felt more like a back-up for the hockey final than anything else. Vancouver's real defining moment, the true crowning of the Games, came with Sidney Crosby's overtime winner to earn his country the men's ice hockey gold medal, putting arch-rivals the United States to the sword.
Maybe if Canada had lost the hockey, the closing ceremony would have helped the nation salvage its day. But every Canadian sat inside BC Place for the ceremony knew the actual party, ongoing for those outside in downtown Vancouver, would begin for them the moment the performances finished. Crosby supplied the Olympic moment, Canadians supplied the Olympic spirit. And that is all you need.