With burst of pride, China closes the Paralympics

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 September, 2008, 12:00am

Spectacular finish at 'Bird's Nest' to 12 days of Games

Amid fireworks, tears and pride, the curtain fell on the 12-day Paralympics last night at the iconic 'Bird's Nest' National Stadium.

The head director of the opening and closing ceremonies for the Olympics and Paralympics, Zhang Yimou , again adeptly combined bright colours, traditional Chinese music, dance and a sky full of fireworks to create a finale of romance and fairy tales.

The spectacular finish capped a competition in which China again finished first in gold medals.

The host country's squad of 332 athletes cemented China's position as a Paralympic superpower by ending the event with 89 golds and 211 medals, more than double second-placed Britain's total on both counts.

In a letter of congratulations, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party and the central government hailed the result as historic.

'You have finished first in both the gold medal and total medal counts, accomplishing a historical breakthrough, winning great honour for the motherland ... and making an important contribution to the target of 'Two Games with Equal Splendour',' the letter said.

Before the Olympics started last month, Beijing promised to produce the two different Games with equal splendour.

International Paralympics Committee chief Sir Philip Craven described the 12 days as the best Paralympics ever.

'These Games have been a great Games. I think everybody realises that.'

The 58-year-old former wheelchair basketball player showed he had been practising his Putonghua when he said: 'Thanks Hong Kong; Thanks Qingdao ; Thanks Beijing; Thanks China'.

The Paralympics have also won wide applause for their superb organisation and the large crowds, particularly those at the athletics and swimming events.

Many foreign disabled athletes were moved by the spectator interest, although government agencies arranged for some members of the audience to attend.

London, the host city of the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics, also praised the 'spectacular' delivery of both events, although Sebastian Coe, chairman of the organising committee for its Games, said the city was ready to match, or surpass, these Olympics and Paralympics.

Wang Wei , Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games official, said the legacies of the Paralympics were 'huge and far-reaching' both in terms of improved sports access and changed public attitudes towards the disabled.

Controversies over drugs and classification were among the few issues to cloud the Paralympics, but Sir Philip said the event was 'near-enough free from doping' in that only four doping cases were found and most had not taken place during the competition.

For China's leaders, the Paralympics closing ceremony may have signalled a moment to breathe a sigh of relief that the Games were largely free of incident, the feared boycott did not materialise and their athletes put the nation at the top of the medal count.

Only the baby formula scandal detracted from the fortnight, undermining the government's efforts to project an elevated image of openness, confidence, respectability and most of all, legitimacy.