By Tom Pilcher
LONDON, Sept 9 (Reuters) – 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 45 million pounds ($72.12 million), exceeding organizers’ original target of 35 million.
The ramped-up coverage and interest was felt everywhere, Alan Oliveira’s shock defeat of Oscar Pistorius in the 200 meters final even “knocked out” all the football coverage in Brazil, said IPC chief executive Xavi Gonzalez.
Pistorius said after his 400 meters win on Saturday that the Olympics and Paralympics in London had been “the biggest highlight” of his life.
International Paralympic Committee (IPC) president Philip Craven could barely believe the amount of coverage.
“I’m floating on cloud nine, sometimes cloud 10 or 11,” he said. “When you get everything in alignment you get a damn big bang and that’s what we’ve had here,” he told a news conference earlier on Sunday.
BEST OF MANKIND
Coe shared a story of his own at the conclusion of the British festival of sport that started on July 27 with the Olympic Games opening ceremony.
The twice gold medalist recalled a meeting on a tube train during the Olympics with a volunteer who was on duty as a doctor during the July 7 bombings in 2005 that claimed the lives of 52 people the day after London was awarded the Games.
“For me this is closure,” said the doctor, named Andrew, to Coe.
“I wasn’t sure whether I should come or whether I could face it. I’m so glad I did, for I’ve seen the worst of mankind and now I’ve seen the best of mankind.”
Coldplay’s music dominated the ceremony supported by singer Rihanna and rapper Jay-Z and there was a big sigh as Craven declared the Games closed, only for Brazilian dancers to follow the mayor of Rio de Janeiro Eduardo Paes on to the stage and whet the appetite for the next Olympics in South America.
Paralympic athletes have been quick to give thanks to viewers and supporters over the course of the Games, including Australia’s Evan O’Hanlon, who won the 100 and 200 meters in the T38 class for cerebral palsy sufferers.
“You have massive profiles over here,” he said. “Hopefully London and Britain have set an example and the rest of the world can follow. Thanks to everyone for watching. Even just flicking on the TV is bringing our profile up.”