Paralympics closing ceremony a mix of celebration and sadness

Fireworks erupt during the closing ceremony. © Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Brazil bid farewell to the Paralympics on Sunday with a celebratory closing ceremony, but one which was also tinged with sadness.

Fireworks lit up a packed Maracana Stadium, while singers and dancers created a carnival atmosphere, before tributes were paid to Iranian cyclist Bahman Golbarnezhad, who died at the Rio games just a day ago.

The 48-year-old died after suffering a heart attack following a crash in Saturday’s C4/C5 road race.

Sir Philip Craven, International Paralympic Committee president, described the Games as “uniquely Brazilian and wondrous” but admitted that Golbarnezhad’s death had cast a shadow over the event.

“Tonight is a celebration of the last 12 days of sport, but it's also a very somber occasion following Saturday’s extremely tragic events,” said Craven.

“The passing of Bahman Golbarnezhad has affected us all and left the whole Paralympic movement united in grief.”

One of the highlights at the ceremony was Jonathan Bastos, a Brazilian who was born without arms yet is an accomplished musician, playing instruments with his feet.

Jonathan Bastos takes part in the closing ceremony. © Ricardo Moraes

Carlos Nuzman, President of the Rio Olympic and Paralympic Organizing Committee, said that the Games had been a success despite the troubled build-up to the event.

With Brazil hit by political turmoil and recession, Mr. Nuzman conceded it had been a “mission of many doubts,” but was happy to declare the event as being “mission accomplished.”

A lack of interest in tickets ahead of the Games had raised fears of failure, but after heavily discounting the prices, officials said they sold 2.1 million, less than in London four years ago but more than in Beijing in 2008.

China topped the medal standings, becoming only the third country to win more than 100 gold medals at a single Paralympic Games.

In addition to 107 golds, China claimed 81 silver and 51 bronze medals to finish with 239 in total, 92 ahead of Great Britain.

Fireworks erupt during the closing ceremony. © Ricardo Moraes

Ukraine finished third with 117 medals, while the US (115) and Australia (81) rounded out the top five.

The United States and Britain are the only other nations to win more than 100 gold medals at a single Paralympics.

Both achieved the feat at the 1984 Games in New York, when the US claimed 136 victories and Britain 107.

Television viewing figures for the Games reached an all-time high, according to paralympic.org, with organizers expecting the cumulative global TV audience for the event to top four billion people.

Alexis Schafer, commercial and marketing director for the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), said: “The positive response of viewers to the coverage illustrates the excellence of Paralympic athletes and the level of competition at the Rio Games.”

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