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Japan bids sayonara to 1964 stadium

TOKYO -- Japanese sports fans bid an emotional farewell to Tokyo's National Stadium at the weekend with a lavish ceremony to close the venue before demolition begins in July.

The stadium, built to host the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, will be dismantled over 15 months and replaced on the same site with a new US$1.6 billion venue to stage the 2019 Rugby World Cup and 2020 Olympics.

A day of spectacular laser shows, fireworks, sports and music brought the curtain down on the 56-year-old stadium, before fans were invited onto the pitch to snap photos, lift replica trophies and loll around barefoot once the proceedings were over.

There were misty eyes among the 36,000-strong crowd as the Olympic flame perched atop the back stand finally went out for good.

“I was in my first year at Waseda University when the Olympics came to Tokyo, and my college friend Yoshinori Sakai lit the flame at the stadium,” 69-year-old Tsuyoshi Hirata told AFP on the stadium's concourse.

“I couldn't go to the opening ceremony so I watched it on TV. It rained a lot the evening before, but on the day the weather was fantastic. When I saw Sakai light the flame, I felt so happy. I felt like Japan had recovered from the war.”

The 54,000-seat stadium holds a special place in Japanese hearts as the site of the first Olympics to be held in Asia and a symbol of Japan's post-World War II recovery.

Sakai, a member of Waseda University's running club who was born in Hiroshima on the day of the city's atomic bombing, was chosen to light the cauldron to symbolize Japan's peaceful postwar reconstruction.

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Three-time Olympic women's wrestling gold medalist Saori Yoshida, of Japan, right, lights a torch during the official farewell event for the national stadium in Tokyo on Saturday, May 31. (AFP)

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