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Monday, September 10, 2012

Para, Para, Paralympics! Coldplay rock the Games Closing Ceremony as they are joined by Rihanna to sing farewell to spectacular summer of sport


Star attraction: Coldplay's Chris Martin (left) and Rihanna provided the soundtrack to the Paralympic Closing Ceremony in the Olympic Stadium. Coldplay performed a 15-track set list, while Martin performed a duet with Rihanna for their collaborative song 'Princess of China'

Para-para-paradise….when Chris Martin wrote Coldplay’s most hypnotic song he was supposedly inspired by the everyday childhood disappointments experienced by his eight-year-old daughter, Apple – a little girl as beautiful and perfectly-formed as her name suggests.
During the past 12 days it has been adopted as the unofficial anthem to an astonishing sporting spectacle that has opened our eyes to the courage of people who know what it means to tackle and overcome genuine adversity.

Festival of flame: The Olympic Stadium was ablaze with fire during the spectacular Closing Ceremony, which captivated a sell-out audience of 80,000

Yet as the curtain came down last night on a sporting summer that Lord Coe described, with unerring certainty, as ‘the most extraordinary – ever’ there was no time for ironic reflection.
The 60,000 of us packed inside the Paralympic stadium simply swayed in unison as they joined Martin in the chorus and dozens of teardrop-like parachutes descended magically from the night sky.
To us, and for all those millions who have marvelled at the heroic feats that have illuminated in this once-dark, depressing corner of East London, Martin’s poignant lyrics will forever carry a very different meaning.

Smoke and light: Hundreds of flares created a stunning vista inside the Olympic Stadium as the flags of all the Paralympic nations were paraded in the arena

For there have been times this past fortnight when simply strolling through the Olympic park has seemed as close to Paradise as real life ever gets.
And for that we must thank the magnificent 4,200 para-para-Parlympians. Men and women from 164 nations who overcame the most unlikely odds to put on a show that humbled and awed us in equal measure; and for thrills, skills, and certainly for heart-tugging emotion, often outstripped the Olympics themselves.
Who will forget their excellence? The cyclist who somehow rode without prosthetic though he had just one arm and one leg; the gold medal-winning American tennis player who could only throw the ball up to serve with his feet; the armless swimmers and archers; the quadruple amputee who somehow played wheelchair rugby.
Their achievements seemed to confound the very laws of physics and are too numerous even to begin to list here.
Not all could be medal winners like the brilliant British duo of David Weir and Sarah Storey, who carried the Union flag at last night’s closing ceremony, but they are all heroes.
It is a word that has been much overused these past few days, but how else to describe them? The Thesaurus contains no more superlatives. The hyperbole has run dry.

Goodnight and thanks for the memories! British athletes Ellie Simmonds (left) and Jonnie Peacock extinguish the Olympic flame, marking the end of 12 days of competition

Simmonds (left) and Peacock both lit torches from the dying flame in the Paralympic cauldron, symbolically marking the end of the 2012 Games. Simmonds, a 17-year-old swimmer, won gold in the 400m S6 Freestyle and the 200m S6 Individual Medley, while sprinter Peacock, 19, won the T44 100m

Stunning: Fireworks light up the night sky above the Olympic Stadium as East London enjoyed its fourth display of jaw-dropping pyrotechnics in two months

Farewell London! The pyrotechnics definitely matched those from the Olympics opening and closing ceremonies, and the Paralympics opening ceremony

Passing on the baton: The London organisers pass the responsibility of holding the Olympics on to Brazil in time for the Rio Games of 2016

There can be no doubt that they have transformed the way we regard so-called disabled people, and in the most fundamental way.
In the outdoor pool at my David Lloyd gym in Cheam, Surrey, at the weekend, I even heard a father urge his son to ‘try swimming with one arm like they do in the Paralympics.’
He duly took up the challenge and pronounced it impossible. When he returns to school this week, he will surely view the boy in the wheelchair with new respect.
Being disabled might even seem cool.
Certainly being a Paralympian athlete will be - and last night’s closing pageant was a wonderfully vibrant, uplifting tribute to them.
Forget all the political controversy that followed the opening ceremony of the Games proper, artistic director Kim Gavin’s show was unashamedly melodramatic theatre at its British best.

Triple act: Rihanna and Chris Martin are joined on stage by Jay-Z to provide the musical background to the ceremony

Duet: Rihanna is helped 'ashore' from her ship by Coldplay's Chris Martin as they performed their collaborative song 'Princess of China'

Flying high: Rihanna makes a grand entrance to the Olympic Stadium on a swinging metal seat

Spectacle soundtrack: Coldplay played throughout the Closing Ceremony, with songs from each of their five main albums

Not all Yellow: Guy Berryman (right), Chris Martin (centre) and Jonny Buckland of Coldplay perform on colourful instruments

Titled the Festival of Flame – because down the ages fire has come to symbolize beginnings and endings - it was an eclectic blockbuster borrowing something from many of the 600 festivals staged throughout the country each year.
It began only marginally less quirkily than the Olympic opening, with the Earl of Wessex lapping the track before making his speech, not in a helicopter but a wonderfully rickety, custom-made vintage car which drove through an arch of 54 military drummers.
He was driven by Captain Tony Harris, a below-the-knee amputee injured in Afghanistan two years ago, and accompanied by the International Paralympic Committee President, Sir Philip Craven.
Then the crowd marvelled at the strength and courage of Royal engineers Captain Luke Sinnott, who somehow raised the Union flag to the top of its pole despite having lost both his legs in Afghanistan last year. A keen sailor, he has vowed to compete in Rio, and only a wealthy man would bet against it.
It was a moving segment of the show that fittingly honoured the many servicemen and women who have participated in the games, and the work of their main charity Help for Heroes.

Kaleidoscope of colour: Fireworks light up the sky above the Olympic Stadium, but there's just as many colours inside as 80,000 lights flicker in the stands

Next stop Rio! Two Brazilian paralympians pose with their national flag after the Ceremony. The next Games will be staged in Rio de Janeiro in four years' time

Enjoying the show: Paralympians soak up the Closing Ceremony atmosphere inside the Stadium

All four corners of the world: British flagbearers Sarah Storey and David Weir with the Union Flag in the colourful parade of nations

The festival was split into four sections designed to reflect the cycle of life and passing seasons – and in the quest for reality, despite the budgetary constraints compared with the three previous Olympic and Paralympic ceremonies, nothing was spared.
As I type this, it is ‘winter’ and my keyboard is covered in hundreds of ‘snowdrops’ which rained down on the audience like the confetti from a thousand weddings. Heaven knows what climatic surprises spring and summer might bring.
The question is, of course, whether our euphoria and the enlightened attitude towards disabled people it has undoubtedly instilled will survive and develop beyond this unforgettable summer.
According to Caz Walton, now 65 and one of Britain’s pioneering wheelchair Paralympians, there is every cause for optimism.
'Eighty per cent of somebody’s disability is in the able-bodied person’s eye,' she told me. 'They often look at someone with a disability and put up barriers that aren’t actually there - but already these Games have changed people’s perceptions, and I think it will continue.'

Purple haze: Performers wave smoke flares during the opening act of the Paralympic Closing Ceremony in front of a rapturous crowd of 80,000 spectators at the Olympic Stadium

Ruling the Waves: A mechanical steamship complete with puffing smoke chimneys and metal rigging chugs into the Stadium

Wheels of fire: A flaming figure of a cyclist is towed into the stadium, fitting considering Britain's many cycling successes in the London Olympics and Paralympics

One hopes she is right, though looking behind some of the incredible national performances we have seen this week, there is clearly a need for caution.
Though the medals table suggests that Russia – which dramatically improved its performance in Beijing to finish second, above Britain – has adopted a newly compassionate attitude to its disabled population, for example, one leading Moscow newspaper recently exposed the shocking inadequacy of their public facilities.
It also revealed that 84 per cent of its disabled population are out of work. The story is no less edifying in China.
Whilst its colossal haul of 231 medals (95 of them gold) portray its communist disability policies as a paragon, this treatment often only extends to its elite athletes. For the 83 million ‘ordinary’ disabled people life grinds on as unequally as ever.
If we can retain and build on the ambiance this week, however – and every Paralympian I have spoken to this week feels sure we can – then Paradise might not be postponed.
As last night’s show drew to a close the Paralympic flame was doused by two of the shining stars of the Games, 100 metre champion Jonnie Peacock and swimming sensation Ellie Simmonds. But they can be assured that our memories will never be extinguished.

A bit fishy! A giant metallic skeleton of a fish makes its way into the stadium surrounded by flame-waving dancers

Royal wave: Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex, makes his entrance in a vehicle rather less salubrious than he might normally be used to

‘Made in Britain’: Lord Coe praises the Games that we made
Lord Coe last night praised the ‘talent and determination’ of the thousands of volunteers, officials and athletes who made the 2012 Paralympics ‘the greatest ever’.
As he formally closed an incredible summer of sport, the organiser and chairman of the Olympics and Paralympics said the words ‘Made In Britain’ meant ‘high quality, skill and creativity’ before adding: ‘We have stamped those words on the Olympic and Paralympic games of London 2012. ‘
He added: ‘In this country we will never think of sport the same way and we will never think of disability the same way.’

Taking flight! Another one of the remarkable vehicles in the parade which opened the Ceremony as part of a fantasy battle scene between good and evil

Time has run out: A vehicle representing 'Clocks' glistened gold as it circled the arena at the start of the Closing Ceremony performances

Minutes later, President of the International Paralympic Committee Sir Philip Craven hailed London’s spectacle as ’the greatest Paralympic Games ever’.
He said that it had been the Games of the entire United Kingdom, not just host city London, and added: ‘These have been quite simply an amazing Paralympic Games.’
Sir Philip went on: ‘Buoyed by the medal success of the host nation this country has enjoyed a real feel good factor like never before.'
Crowds erupted into huge cheers as he thanked volunteers for helping the Games to run smoothly.
‘With those purple outfits, smiles and fountains of knowledge, the biggest cheer of London 2012 should be reserved for now as we say thank you again to the thousands of games makers.’

Advance! A rusty mechanical horse rode by a knight in shining armour enters the stadium in the opening procession of fantasy vehicles

Bug's Life: A large and very green grasshopper - which appears to be a converted Volkswagen Beetle - arrives in the stadium

Master of ceremonies: soldier Rory MacKenzie introduced the procession of 'Mad Max' characters. MacKenzie had his leg blown off by a roadside bomb while serving in Iraq

Proud moment: London Games organiser Lord Coe, Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg watch the Closing Ceremony

Transfixed! Members of the audience at the Olympic Stadium. Each seat is fitted with a panel of lights which can be combined to create stunning visual effects

Inspiration: Captain Luke Sinnott, who lost his legs and an arm in Helmand, climbs a flagpole to proudly unfurl the Union Flag as the Paralympic Closing Ceremony gets underway at the Olympic Stadium in London

What an entrance! Hundreds of performers carry torches into the Olympic Stadium to mark the beginning of the Paralympic Closing Ceremony. The spectacle got underway with a fantasy battle scene involving hundreds of Mad Max-style characters

Blue wonder: The Olympic Stadium roof is illuminated by lights in the build-up to the Paralympic Closing Ceremony. The crowd of 80,000 were in their seats well before sunset in anticipation of the spectacle to come

Finishing touches: A multitude of volunteers make the final preparations on the stage for the Closing Ceremony, which has been described as a 'Festival of flame'

Golden Days: Now that the Olympics and Paralympics have finished, the site in Stratford will become known as the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, with sports venues, open space, waterways and housing

Leaving a legacy: The Olympic Stadium will be reduced in capacity, with a number of clubs and organisations interested in taking up the lease

source: dailymail

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