By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Against seemingly all odds, including political instability, a deep recession, and the tragic death of one of the Paralympic athletes on the event’s penultimate day, last night (September 18th) at Maracanã Stadium, the Rio 2016 Paralympics came to a successful conclusion with a spectacular celebration of Brazilian music and dance featuring the biggest performers that the country has to offer.
“Mission accomplished…Brazilians never give up!” Rio 2016 President, Carlos Arthur Nuzman exclaimed during the ceremony. Nuzman’s proclamation signaled a far cry from where things stood just several weeks earlier when Paralympic officials were fearing the event’s very existence due to lack of ticket sales.
But, all of that was a distant memory as the 78,000 fans and over four thousand para-athletes crammed into Maracanã for the close of not just the Paralympics, but the entire Rio 2016 experience which began, seemingly ages ago, with the Olympic opening ceremony on August 5th.
The ceremony kicked off with Brazilian tenor, Saulo Lucas, who was born completely blind, singing a breathtaking rendition of the Brazilian national anthem amidst a backdrop of visual effects and lighting creating various constellations.
Next, rather than the traditional parade of nations like the opening ceremony eleven days earlier, last night, one representative from each of the 160 countries participating in the Rio Paralympics brought out their flag.
Special awards were then presented to U.S. wheelchair athlete, Tatyana McFadden, who won four golds at the Rio 2016 Paralympics, her fourth Paralympics, and Syrian swimmer Ibrahim Al Hussein, who had his right leg amputated in 2013 after being injured by a bomb, and competed in this year’s Games in the 50m and 100m freestyle S10. McFadden and Hussein were given The Whang Youn Dai Award for their outstanding achievements and exemplifying the Paralympic values.
A tribute to the 15,000 Rio 2016 volunteers was followed by the handover to the next host city, Tokyo. Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes handed the Paralympic flag to International Paralympic Committee president Sir Philip Craven, who then handed it to Tokyo governor, Yuriko Koike.
Sir Craven then took to the stage along with Rio 2016 president, Carlos Nuzman. “We inspired fans all over the world…The best fans on the planet are Cariocas – they are Brazilian!” said Nuzman proudly.
The celebration turned momentarily somber as Sir Craven then led a moment of silence in tribute to Iranian cyclist Bahman Golbarnezhad who suffered a fatal bike crash while competing on Saturday, September 17th.
The somber tone gave way to cheers as Sir Craven announced that he was awarding Rio de Janeiro the Paralympic Order award, the highest award the body can bestow. “You defied expectations and turned ill found pity into pride, you are now heroes and role models for sports fans around the world,” exclaimed Sir Craven. “You should all be proud.”
The cavalcade of Brazilian pop stars who performed during the celebration included Nação Zumbi, Vanessa da Mata, Céu, Saulo Fernandes, Dream Team do Passinho, Nego do Borel, Gaby Amarantos, and maybe the biggest of them all, Ivete Sangalo, who closed out the celebration in spectacular fashion.
With the Paralympics concluded, the final medal tally had China sitting atop the medals table with 239 medals, including 107 golds. Great Britain was next with 147 medals and 64 golds.
The Ukraine just edged ahead of the U.S. for third place with 117 medals and 41 golds against the U.S.’s 115 medals and forty golds.
Host nation Brazil finished eighth in the medal table with 72 medals and fourteen golds.