By Mary Milliken
VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Canada herded 60,000 man-made moose and made its dignified Mounties dance in the Olympic host nation's playful poke at what it means to be Canadian as the Winter Games came to a close on Sunday.
After seven years of work for 17 days of Games, Canada breathed a comic sigh of relief in a closing ceremony where famous actors spoke of pride in people who "know how to make love in a canoe" and apologize for winning gold medals.
On a more serious note, International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge paid Canada the ultimate compliment of staging "excellent and very friendly Games" before declaring them closed.
Before 60,000 spectators who donned brown moose antler hats and pixelated the stadium with lights, Canada had fun with its ice-hockey loving, wildlife-hugging cliches in a revue of "Canadiana."
It also cashed in on its cool factor with 1,000 snowboarders kicking off the countdown while fireworks blasted inside and outside the stadium in images broadcast to 3.5 billion worldwide.
"These Olympic Games have lifted us up," said John Furlong, chief executive of the Vancouver Organising Committee. "If the Canada that came together on opening night was a little mysterious to some it now no longer is. Now you know us, eh?"
Home-grown actors like Michael J. Fox and William Shatner mocked their countrymen's penchant for politeness (we're sorry) and obsession with its vast territory (we dream big).
Organizers even joked about the apparent big glitch of the opening ceremony, when only three of the four arms of the Olympic cauldron emerged from the stadium floor.
The closing show started with a comic workman connecting a plug and pulling the fourth arm out of the floor so the torchbearer could light the cauldron as planned two weeks ago.
"Sometimes mistakes ... force you to achieve great things," David Atkins, the executive producer and artistic director of the show, told reporters.
"Had we not had one missing leg on the cauldron (in the opening ceremony) we wouldn't have been able to do what we did tonight.
"The idea we had was that we would sort of celebrate the (mistake) in the first place. The idea was to have a bit of fun with the whole concept of the cauldron and then turning it into a more emotional moment. The audience responded to that."
The closing ceremony also had its somber moments, particularly when officials remembered the horrific death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili in a training crash hours before the opening.
"To the people of Georgia, we are so sad and so sorry for your loss. Your unimaginable grief is shared by every Canadian and all those who have gathered here," said Furlong as the spectators gave a standing ovation.
Canada also remembered the tragedy of its team: figure skater Joannie Rochette carried the country's flag after she skated for a bronze medal following her mother's sudden death.
Vancouver's mayor, dressed in the Canada ice hockey jersey hours after the men's team won the gold medal, handed the Olympic flag over to the mayor of the Russia city of Sochi, organizer of the 2014 Winter Games.
A live broadcast from Moscow's Red Square and Sochi connected the Olympic hosts, past and future.
As Vancouver said goodbye to its Games, Canada's own Neil Young paid homage with his song "Long May You Run."
Ironically, the 1976 song talks about not getting bogged down by bad weather -- one of the recurring themes in these weather-troubled Games.
"We've been through some things together/With trunks of memories still to come/We found things to do in stormy weather/Long may you run," the veteran rocker sang.
(Additional reporting by Deborah Charles and Pritha Sarkar; Editing by Jon Bramley)