Vancouver Paralympics Finish 2

The 2010 Paralympics broke new records in attendance and visibility around the world. It closed out in a flash of colorful fireworks and patriotism under a basketball-court sized Canadian flag. Sunday night as athletes from around the world gathered and said their Games goodbye.

Many of the 506 athletes here wished not to stay on the field of competition and complete the focus of so many hopes and dreams.

Some, like Canada’s Lauren Woolstencroft and Germany’s Verena Bentele won five gold medals. In anyone’s view, these were remarkable achievements. Visually impaired Canadian cross-country skier Brian Mc Keever won 3 Gold medals. Amazingly inspirational athletes all.

Others, like the world-class Canadian sledge hockey team, were deeply disappointed at their showing in the Games. Yet they showed great valor and sportsmanship, and that’s the heart and soul of the Olympics.

Under that massive Canadian flag at the open-air Whistler celebration site, they were invited back for more in four years’ time — this time in Sochi, Russia — and many will continue their rigorous, often-lonely training, to try for new goals, yet again.

Once in a while during the day, the sun brightly shine through clouds, but at another time clouds drenched Whistler thoroughly, delaying the Closing Ceremony. Only 1/10 the crowd of the Closing Olympic Ceremony attended, as it was not held in a huge indoor stadium. Instead, outside in Whistler village, there was a sense of belonging. The 6,000 spectators, athletes, officials and dignitaries, who included Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex and Steven Harper, Canada’s Prime Minister, had all come prepared wearing rainwear.

There was a sweet historical irony at play Sunday because it was the 25th anniversary of the start of Rick Hansen’s “Man in Motion” tour, which was an event that helped change the world’s view of people who live with a disability. Hansen, was a key part of the opening ceremony.

The audience was spell-bound as they watched 125 skiers, of all ages and abilities, carry red torches down Whistler Mountain, and they listened to the voices of 185 people in the Sea to Sky Chorus singing of “O Canada”.

Upbeat and themed from the anthem, “With Glowing Hearts,” the organizers hoped the Ceremony would be a festive celebration rather than sadness at seeing one of the most successful Paralympics in history come to a close.

Sir Phil Craven, the president of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), was effusive in his praise of the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VanOC) and its legion of blue-jacketed volunteers. He said they had created a wonderful community spirit for the athletes.

John Furlong, the president of the Vancouver Organizing Committee, left the ceremony halfway through to catch a flight to Georgia, where he is attending a memorial for Nodar Kumaritashvili, the young luge athlete who was killed Feb. 12 in a training accident, on the too-fast, German-designed track at Whistler.

But, before Furlong left, he told the cheering crowds that the Paralympic and Olympic Games had ignited and united the country, saying “We now know that sport success is in our nation’s highest interest; that through sport we are a stronger nation, a better nation.” As the facilities improve in countries which hold the Games, tourists and residents reap the benefits afterward. Use these world-class venues as part of your holidays and to keep up your own fitness!

You’ll be able to see videos here and there on the internet which feature aspects of the Ceremony which included a feast of Canadian musical and artistic talent, like:the foot-stomping music of Quebec folk band La Bottine Souriante, dances by Whistler’s Soul Funktion Studio and a hoop dance by Host First Nation Lil’Wat member Alex Wells,as well as throat singing by Inuit artist Tanya Tagaq and a traditional Inuit blanket toss.

Then, as Andrew Allen sang the ballad “Amazing”, the Paralympic torches in Whistler and Vancouver were extinguished.

These were benchmark Games in many respects, as they drew larger television audiences than ever before. Even Canadian TV, bent to public pressure and finally relented. They televised the closing ceremony live across the nation, in both English and French. But, unfortunately, the United States’ NBC did not do much of anything!

The Paralympics were a success in terms of attendance; more than 230,000 tickets (85 per cent of those available), were sold, making it by those standards the most successful Winter Games ever, and the Canadian committees earned this result with hard-work and by upgrading the treatment of the event. In the past, other nations have disrespected the event and the athletes. This has finally stopped, thanks to Canada.

The upside is also that the Paralympics still have the same neighborly feel as the Olympics did 30 years ago, (before it discovered corporate sponsorships). And, I think their spirit is stronger for it.

Blessings to all who supported and participated in the Games, and I hope visitors will continue to come to see “Beautiful British Colombia” for decades to come!

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