By The Associated Press
LONDON (AP) — London’s spectacular summer of sports was given a rousing send-off Sunday.
Coldplay and an all-star support cast brought the curtain down on the most-watched and best-attended Paralympic Games of all time, ending a six-week-long festival of sport in the British capital that began with the hugely successful Olympics.
Rapper Jay-Z and pop star Rihanna collaborated with the English rock band in a three-hour extravaganza at the 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium honoring the spirit of festivals throughout British history.
Central to the ceremony – called the “Festival of the Flame” – were the 4,200 Paralympians from 164 nations who sat around the field of play from the start. The past 11 days of memorable competition have shifted perceptions and shattered stereotypes, ensuring disabled sport will never be seen in the same light.
“I think people are going to look back at this Paralympic Games and for the first time really, truly believe that Paralympic sport is not just inspirational, it’s hard-core sport,” said South African double amputee Oscar Pistorius, the iconic figure of the Paralympics.
A moving tribute to wounded British servicemen and members of the British army opened the show and saw Luke Sinnott, a captain who lost both legs from above the knee in an explosion in Afghanistan in 2010, hang the Union Flag at the top of flagpole in the middle of the stadium.
Proud flag-bearers marched in before a motorcade of 25 trucks, in a variety of shapes including peacocks and fish, stormed the stadium and kick-started Coldplay’s set list that artistic director Kim Gavin wanted to reflect the four seasons at the heart of the show.
Top-selling hits like “Clocks,” “Viva La Vida” and “Paradise” were belted out, rocking an arena that has been the focus of the sporting world since the end of July.
The baton was to be handed to Rio when the cauldron – made up of 200 petals – is extinguished, ending the biggest games in the 52-year history of the Paralympics.
“On Aug. 29, we opened with the theme of `Enlightenment,'” said Sir Philip Craven, president of the International Paralympic Committee. “Tonight, we are enlightened and armed with a superior knowledge of what can be achieved. The legacy of these games will be long-lasting.”
The 2012 Paralympics have broken all records, with 2.7 million spectators cramming into venues and more than $70 million raised in ticket sales – both unprecedented figures as the British public displayed a previously unseen enthusiasm for Paralympic sport.
The games were broadcast in more than 100 countries, allowing Paralympians such as Dutch wheelchair tennis player Esther Vergeer – who extended her nine-year unbeaten streak to 470 matches by winning the women’s singles – and double gold-medalist British swimmer Ellie Simmons become household names.
In total, 251 world records were broken over the 11 days.
“I think it’s been an absolute triumph from start to finish,” said British Prime Minister David Cameron, whose disabled son Ivan died in 2009. “I think back to Ivan. As every parent, you think about all the things they can’t do, but at the Paralympics they are superhuman, you see all the things they can do.
“It’s been a golden summer of British sport.”
Such was the global attraction of performing at the closing ceremony that organizers were able to turn down approaches to appear. Rihanna, Jay Z and Coldplay – acclaimed artists who have sold millions of records among them – were being paid a nominal one pound ($1.60) to play.
“Being at the Paralympics is the biggest honor,” Rihanna said. “These athletes are gladiators and are a true inspiration to me.”
Two such examples were Mary Zakayo, a Kenyan javelin thrower and shot-putter credited with changing the face of Paralympic sport in Africa, and Michael McKillop, an Irish athlete who won two middle-distance golds.
The two were chosen as the athletes who best exemplified the spirit of the games, earning the Whang Youn Dai Achievement Award.