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London to bid Paralympic Games farewell

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Sept. 9, 2012, 9:15 a.m. |

Defending champion Ukraine and Beijing runner-up Russia will once again clash in the seven-a-side Paralympic football finals at 16 GMT Sept. 9.
© (www.london2012.com)

LONDON — The Paralympic flame will be extinguished in London on Sunday after the final day of competition at the Games, bringing down the curtain on a summer of elite sport in the British capital.

The world's best wheelchair, amputee, blind and visually impaired marathon racers compete in central London from 0700 GMT, taking the festival of disabled sport to the public, with large crowds expected.

In seven-a-side football, Russia are out for revenge over Ukraine in a repeat of the Beijing final four years ago, while Australia take on Canada for "murderball" -- wheelchair rugby -- gold.

With 11 days of sport and the biggest, most high-profile Paralympics in the Games' 52-year history at an end, attention then turns to the closing ceremony, which takes place in the Olympic Stadium from 1930 GMT.

Organisers have promised that the show, headlined by British band Coldplay, will be a celebratory farewell and look ahead to the next competition in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2016.

"We have taken the flame, being part of and representing the human spirit that brings so much power to these Games, and really focused towards the flame going out. That's our emotion," said co-artistic director Kim Gavin.

London was awarded the Olympics and Paralympics in 2005 and has had to face doubts notably over the cost of the project, security and whether the city's creaking transport system could cope with a massive influx of visitors.

But organisers have won plaudits for the efficient running of both events, with packed venues and vocal crowds, defying naysayers who predicted chaos and a lack of enthusiasm.

London 2012 chief Sebastian Coe told reporters on Saturday that he always believed the Games would be a success.

"Nothing has surprised me in this whole journey, even in the days where a lot of people were not that excited and didn't believe that what we were doing would end up where we did. I've never doubted that and why would I?," he added.

"I wasn't surprised by the (torch) relay, I wasn't surprised about the ways the Games caught the imagination."

A record 4,200 athletes from 165 nations took part in the Paralympics, from major stars such as South Africa's Oscar Pistorius -- the first double-amputee to compete in the Olympics -- to North Korea and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

At the top end of performances, hundreds of world and Games records fell. New stars emerged, watched by the 2.7 million people who bought tickets.

Certainly in Britain, where the media covered the Games as never before, millions more read about them in newspapers and online or watched them on television.

Interest and the focus on performance were signs that disabled sport had come of age, said the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) governing body.

"The fact is our athletes are getting better. They're training full-time. This is not just a hobby sport. It's professional sport at its very best," said IPC spokeman Craig Spence on September 4.

"Some countries are enjoying far better levels of funding, which in turn leads to better results. We would like to put it down to their (the athletes') hard work rather than anything else."

Issues undoubtedly remain, not least the wide gulf between top-performing nations and less developed countries lacking resources for people with disabilities, not just in sport.

But as the flame goes out, there are hopes that the momentum of interest can be sustained well beyond the immediate afterglow, inspiring the next generation of athletes with disabilities and encouraging more people into sport.

There are also wider hopes that the Games can be a much-needed spur to help to change attitudes the world over.

"I will be a big example for disabled people in my country, so that they can do better," said hand-cycling Paralympian Gaysli Leon, of Haiti, who lost his wife and eight children in the 2010 earthquake on the Caribbean island.

"Disabled doesn't mean that you are useless," said the 45-year-old.

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