Successful Games mark achievement on all levels
Peter Simpson in Beijing
Call it false modesty, but when China promised 'two Games with equal splendour', it forgot to mention that it would also deliver a double delight of sporting domination during the Olympics and Paralympics.
The flame that has glowed bright for China's athletes over the past seven weeks was doused for the final time last night. And the host nation not only basked in the glory of dazzling the world with four unforgettable opening and closing ceremonies, it topped both medal tables and impressed the sporting world.
China's Paralympian team finished with 89 golds - and 211 medals overall - to maintain the nation's dominance in the Paralympics as well as the Olympics. Britain was a distant second in the Paralympics with 42 golds and 102 medals overall, while the United States finished with 33 and 99, respectively.
Hong Kong's Paralympians were to leave Beijing for home today, after finishing in a respectable if slightly disappointing 26th place, with five golds and 30 medals over all. That was lower than their 17th-place finish in Athens four years ago, but it also reflected changes in the categories.
Hong Kong stars were in action during the final day, advancing yet again to a podium place in their city's newly prominent sport of fencing.
Hui Charn-hung won a silver medal in the men's individual sabre category B, losing 9-15 in the final to Frenchman Laurent Francois.
'We were at the same level but Laurent's attacks were more aggressive, and I didn't defend well. I heard the cheers for me and this encouraged me,' Hui said.
Chan Wing-kin lost his quest for a bronze in the men's individual sabre category A, losing to Italian Alberto Pellegrini.
Regardless of the overall result, 91,000 spectators cheered the Bauhinia-adorned flag when it flew for the last time on the Olympic Green at last night's closing ceremony.
The architects of 'Project 119' - the Sports Ministry's master plan to target winnable Olympic gold medals - worked tirelessly to beat the US into second place last month. But a more simple equation was applied to keeping China's Paralympians on top of the pile: money.
About 100 million yuan (HK$113.9 million) a year has been spent on the hopefuls since China won the bid to host the Olympics, in 2001. However, with a talent pool of 83 million registered disabled people in the world's most populous country, perhaps supremacy was a foregone conclusion.
Even so, the China Disabled Persons' Federation left nothing to chance, and sought to copy the well-oiled, strict state sports system to select the 322 athletes from provincial training schools. 'It is also an embodiment of our national system,' said Jia Yong, an official with the Chinese Paralympic delegation.
The Paralympics had their share of controversy, from doping to medals being stripped for rule violations. But just as International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge did on August 24, International Paralympic Committee chief Sir Philip Craven gave China high praise.
'These have been very special Games. These Games have been great Games. I think everybody realises that,' he said yesterday.
Part of the success has been the packed stadiums, thanks to the mainland's effort to treat both Games with equal importance.
Moreover, 83 million disabled people had their cause championed, along with that of the 4,100 international Paralympians.