Paralympics close on a high note
The 2010 Paralympic Games has come to a close before a crowd of thousands gathered at the celebration plaza in Whistler, B.C.
Sir Philip Craven, president of the International Paralympic Committee, officially ended the Games on Sunday night.
Despite cloudy skies and dropping temperatures, thousands packed the celebration plaza in Whistler. Athletes cheerfully entered along a parade route lined with hundreds more who couldn't get tickets to the sold-out event.
The program also included performances by an Inuit throat singer and Winnipeg's Chantal Kreviazuk.
With the end of the Paralympics, Canada's time in the international spotlight as host of the world's largest sporting festivals is officially over.
It's been seven years since Vancouver and Whistler, B.C. won the bid to host both events and the head of the committee said every minute was worth it for him.
"Canada's Games are over — we did it!" John Furlong, VANOC's chief executive officer, said at the closing ceremonies.
"If we have had success, it was because all 33 million Canadians for an instant became loyal trusted teammates. We were 'Team Canada - Equipe Canada' — not the few but the many. We did this together — all of us living every moment and all the drama like we ourselves were the athletes."
Furlong said the Olympic and Paralympic Games showed that through sport, Canada is a stronger, better nation.
After his speech, Furlong left to begin a trip to the eastern European nation of Georgia for a memorial service for Nodar Kumaritashvili, the luger killed on the first day of the 2010 Olympics.
'Final send off'
Sunday's closing ceremony was meant to reflect the conclusion of the Olympics and the Paralympics.
"We're not going to ignore the fact that this is the final send off," said Patrick Roberge, producer of Sunday night's event. "It's very important with the fireworks show and the theme of the show 'with glowing hearts' — we'll all have glowing hearts with the success of the Olympics and Paralympics."
Canadian cross-country skier Colette Bourgonje said the Games proved the power of sport.
"They've drawn our nation together and it's increased the quality of life for disabled athletes," she told reporters. "The legacy of these Games will be phenomenal."
More than 25,000 volunteers, 16,000 security officers, as well as more than 7,000 athletes and officials and hundreds of thousands of spectators were part of these two Games. Billions more watched on television across the country and around the world.
There was also some success for those who didn't cheer for the Games but against them.
Hundreds took to the street in protest of the Olympics and a tent city set up to draw attention to homelessness saw government officials actually find homes for 35 people.
Even Mother Nature was won over in the end, though it took helicopters to dump snow on a barren Cypress Mountain and a constant rejigging of the Paralympic alpine schedule.
"I think I'll be the first guy to run both Summer and Winter Games, all in two months," joked Tim Gayda, vice president of sport for the Vancouver Olympic and Paralympic organizing committee.
The fever that inflamed a nation during the 17 days of the Olympics cooled during the Paralympic Games, but both have been embraced by Canada in a way beyond anyone's expectations.
For some Paralympians, having to wriggle out of the bear hug was the hardest part of their experience.
Canada's failure to win a medal in sledge hockey was crushing, said defenceman said Adam Dixon.
"We wanted to at least walk out with our pride and walk out with a souvenir to go home with."
But Canadians weren't too picky about whom they were cheering.
About 230,000 tickets of the 250,000 available were sold for the Paralympics, with several events sold out even before the Games began. The Paralympics also set records for television coverage.
Early Sunday morning, the last day of the Games, at the place where thousands of people had once stood crushed against a chainlink fence to see the Olympic and Paralympic cauldron, there were only four scattered coffee cups and three police officers watching clouds race over the north shore mountains.
As a bus driver boarded his bus for Whistler, he waved out to a volunteer.
"If I don't see ya, have a good one" he drawled. "It's been fun."