Paralympics close marks end of Games saga

·3-min read

The final act of the delayed Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics came on Sunday, almost eight years to the day after the Japanese capital was awarded the Games.

The Paralympics ended a 13-day run in a colourful, circus-like ceremony at the National Stadium overseen by Crown Prince Akishino, the brother of Emperor Naruhito. The Olympics closed almost a month ago.

These were unprecedented Olympics and Paralympics, postponed for a year and marked by footnotes and asterisks. No fans were allowed during the Olympics, except for a few thousand at outlying venues away from Tokyo. A few thousand school children were allowed into some Paralympic venues.

"There were many times when we thought these games could not happen," Andrew Parsons, president of the International Paralympic Committee, said on Sunday. "There were many sleepless nights."

The closing ceremony was entitled "Harmonious Cacophony" and involved both able-bodied actors and others with disabilities. The theme was described by organisers as a "world inspired by the Paralympics, one where differences shine."

Retiring swimmer Ellie Cole signed off from the Paralympics in style as Australia's flag bearer.

Cole, 29, became Australia's most decorated female Paralympian with 17 medals across four Games after winning bronze and silver relay medals in Tokyo.

"I am so proud of our Australian Paralympic team for getting here," Cole said on the Seven Network's coverage as she marched through the stadium alone.

"Oh my gosh, this is amazing ... what a Games this has been, this is such a great way to end a career."

Like the Olympics, the Paralympics went ahead as Tokyo was under a state of emergency due to the pandemic. Like the Olympics, testing athletes frequently and isolating them in a bubble kept the virus largely at bay, though cases surged among a Japanese population that is now almost 50 per cent fully vaccinated.

"I believe that we have reached the end of the Games without any major problems," said Seiko Hashimoto, the president of the Tokyo organising committee.

But there was fallout, however. Lots of it.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced Friday - two days before the closing - that he would not continue in office. Suga hoped to get a re-election bump from the Olympics. He got the opposite as his approval rating plummeted after a slow vaccine rollout in Japan, and a contentious decision to stage the Games during the pandemic.

The Paralympics may leave a more tangible legacy in Japan than the Olympics, raising public awareness about people with disabilities and the provision of accessible public space.

The Paralympics involved a record number of athletes - 4,405 - and a record number of countries won medals. They also saw two athletes from Afghanistan compete, both of whom arrived several days late after fleeing Kabul.

Next up are the Beijing Winter Olympics, opening in five months.

They have been billed as the "Genocide Games" by rights groups that want the Games pulled from China because of the reported internment of at least one million Uyghurs and other largely Muslim ethnic groups in Xinjiang in northwestern China.

The IOC, which pushed for Tokyo to go ahead and generated about $US3-4 billion in television income, has already lined up the next three Summer Olympics; Paris in 2024, Los Angeles in 2028, and Brisbane, in 2032.

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