BEIJING: Beijing’s Winter Paralympics closed on Sunday following a ban on Russian and Belarusian competitors as well as stellar performances from the host nation and athletes from war-torn Ukraine.
At the Bird’s Nest Stadium in the capital, China handed the Paralympics flag to Italy’s Milano-Cortina which is gearing up to stage the Games in four years.
Beijing is the first city to host both the Summer and Winter Olympics and Paralympics and there are hopes this year’s event will leave a legacy of better accessibility and rights for 85 million Chinese with disabilities.
In his closing ceremony speech, International Paralympic Committee (IPC) president Andrew Parsons hailed the athletes as “beacons of hope, and champions for peace”.
Chinese President Xi Jinping was among dignitaries in attendance as the Paralympic flame was extinguished following nine days of sporting action in para-ice hockey, wheelchair curling, para-snowboarding, para-alpine skiing, para-biathlon and para-cross country skiing.
Ukraine’s athletes came a remarkable second in the medals table after their best performance in a Winter Paralympics.
One athlete learned her soldier father had been taken prisoner by Russian troops during the Games while another won a gold medal after discovering her home in Kharkiv had been bombed.
The team, which dominated in biathlon and cross-country skiing, claimed 11 gold medals and 29 podium finishes — four more medals than the country’s previous best at Turin in 2006.
The squad took their final gold in the open cross-country relay on Sunday, ahead of France and Norway.
Team veteran Vitalii Lukianenko, 43 — who won double gold and a silver in the biathlon — carried the Ukrainian flag at the closing ceremony.
China emerged as a force to be reckoned with — topping the medal count ahead of Ukraine, Canada, France and the US — with 18 golds and 61 medals in all.
More than 560 athletes from 46 nations competed at the Games and there was a blitz of medals on the last day of competition.
The US swept past Canada 5-0 to take the para-ice hockey gold.
The Americans also dominated in the mixed cross-country relay in Zhangjiakou, sharing the podium with China and Canada, while Italian, French and Norwegian male athletes snapped up the last golds in alpine skiing categories.