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Spectacular Paralympics end in style
Thousands packed into London's Olympic Park stadium for a lavish closing ceremony of music, art, and fire.
Last Modified: 09 Sep 2012 23:18

Britain's spectacular summer of sport ended on Sunday with the Paralympic Games closing ceremony led by British band Coldplay as the Olympic Stadium once again hosted a memorable party for athletes and fans alike.

Paralympians rose and joined in with the Mexican waves inside the vast arena in east London even before the extravaganza was underway to signal the end of the 11-day festival of sport.

China finished top of the medal table, bagging 95 golds in their 231-medal haul with Russia (36 golds, 102 overall) and hosts Britain (34 golds, 120 overall) in second and third respectively.

"We've shared some wonderful days haven't we?," London Olympics chairman Sebastian Coe said to the packed stadium who gave a roar of approval.

"Days where incredible people have performed feats we hardly thought possible. The Paralympians have lifted the cloud of limitation."

The London Paralympics sold 2.7 million tickets in total, almost 900,000 more tickets than Beijing four years ago and the unprecedented sales brought in nearly $72.12m, exceeding organisers' original target.

Overcoming adversity

South Africa's Oscar Pistorius, one of the world's most high-profile Paralympians, concluded the track and field events, tearing around the track to claim gold in the 400m. He said the focus of the Games had moved away from "disability" - and towards recognising the positive achievements through adversity.

Britain's David Weir won four gold medals [Reuters]

"I think people are going to look back at this Paralympic Games and for the first time really, truly believe that Paralympic sport is not just inspirational, it's hardcore sport," he said.

"It's full of triumph, sometimes it has disappointment, but that's what we look for in sport. We want it to be competitive and that's what it's been about."

London 2012 chief Lord Sebastian Coe - himself an Olympic gold-winning athlete - said that, with 2.7 million tickets sold, packed venues and vocal crowds, the games had helped create a global platform for elite disabled sport and helped change perceptions of people with disabilities.

"I really genuinely do think that we have had a seismic effect on shifting public attitudes," he told journalists.

"I don't think people will ever see sport in the same way again. I don't think they will ever see disability in the same way again. We have talked about what we can do rather than what we can't do."

But the daughter of the Jewish nuerologist who escaped Nazi persecution and later founded the Paralympic Games - in Britain in 1948 - said that there was still room for improvement.

"I think that more people will realise that disabled people are people," Eva Loeffler, 79 years old, said.

 Meeting the Paralympian asylum seekers

"It is 64 years [since the first Paralympics] and there jolly well ought to be advances - [but] there are still 40 countries for us to catch up to the Olympic Games.

"In a lot of countries, disabled people are either hidden away or have no equipment ... Even now in this country, where things have changed so much, it is very difficult for people in wheelchairs to get off trains at Stratford 
[east London, where the games are being held].

"We are not there yet. There is a way to go."

Al Jazeera's Lee Wellings was one of the thousands looking forward to the celebrations at the closing ceremony.

"It's been absolutely huge," he said, outside the 80,000-seat Olympic Park stadium.

"The crowds and atmosphere have been truly special. There was cynicism about the cost of the Olympics and Paralympics, but they've been a huge success - now the challenge is to keep that going with disability sport."

Protests

Some organisers may have wished at times that the crowds were not quite so vocal - as UK Finance Minister George Osborne and then-Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt were noisily booed by crowds of thousands when entering the stadium to present winners' medals.

Both Osborne and Hunt, members of the Conservative-led government in Whitehall, have supported an "austerity" economic agenda which will see dramatic cuts in disability support services, campaigners say.

Also under fire has been Paralympic sponsor Atos, which carries responsibility for conducting tests to assess disabled people's eligibility for benefit payments.

The company was the focus of fierce controversy over its sponsorship of the Games while contracted by the UK's Department of Work and Pensions to carry out "fitness to work" tests. In addition to protests outside the IT group's London headquarters, it was noted that none of the British athletes at the opening ceremony had the lanyards of their accreditation badges on show - the lanyards bore Atos' logo.

ParalympicsGB officials denied athletes had purposefully hidden the branding, but an Atos statement read: "We fully respect people's right to peaceful protest and we understand this is a highly emotive issue."

The next Paralympic hosts, Rio de Janeiro, are also set to provide a taste of 2016 with a colourful segment featuring "dance battles" between performers of different styles.

The ceremony kicked off with a procession of fire jugglers, a parade of drummers carrying blazing beacons while fireworks are to explode over the stadium in the final minutes, according to programme notes.

A message will also be projected onto Britain's Houses of Parliament, reading: "Thank you London, thank you UK."

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Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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