- 17 Sep 08, 05:20 PM
The closing ceremony of the Beijing Paralympics proved to be a glorious celebration and a fitting end to what has been a magnificent Games.
The Chinese started with spectacular fireworks and ended with just as dazzling a pyrotechnic display to give London plenty of food for thought as they plan for their showpiece events in four years' time.
Like the opening ceremony, organisers opted to give athletes the best chance to experience the 90-minute show so only the flag bearers from each nation came into the Bird's Nest stadium, with the other athletes already in place.
Swimmer Dave Roberts, who won four gold medals at the nearby Water Cube, proudly carried the Great Britain flag, but we must give a mention to his fellow swimmer Melissa Stockwell, who did the honours for the USA.
Stockwell is a former American soldier who lost the lower part of her leg in a roadside bomb attack in Iraq.
She was awarded the Purple Heart (a top US military award) for her courage, and although Stockwell - whose prosthetic leg is painted in the stars and stripes - did not win any medals, her brave performances saw her representing her country at the closing ceremony.
The music and dance segments struck the right balance with some breathtaking movement and scenery.
It began with thousands of red petals falling from high in the stadium - to symbolise the Red Leaves of Fragrant Hill, a famous scenic spot in Beijing.
The leaves danced on the wind before making their way down to earth where, waiting for them, were what the show's producers described as "colour painters full of romantic Oriental charm" dressed in yellow.
The theme of letter writing ran through much of the ceremony, including the extinguishing of the Paralympic flame, which was far more low-key than the opening ceremony, where Hou Bin dragged himself up the stadium.
After the speeches, it was the turn of London mayor Boris Johnson (with suit open this time) to accept the Paralympic flag, which Boris (with hands out of his pockets) waved with gusto.
However, there were mixed views about the eight-minute London segment which once again starred the London bus, first seen at last month's Olympic closing ceremony.
Whereas last time there was David Beckham, Leona Lewis and Jimmy Page, the producers and creative directors deliberately shied away from global faces to try to make it youthful and full of zest.
It is hard to know what impression the Chinese and the rest of the world will have of London from a bus, some hedging, female drummer Cherisse Osei, guitarist Sam Hegedus dressed as Lord Nelson and some vibrant dancing.
I know it is hard to get everything into such a short slot and you are playing to a television audience, but from our viewpoint in the stadium it was, at times, hard to figure out exactly what was going on.
Did they try to be too wacky? Perhaps, but it ended up looking slightly embarrassing.
"It was quirky and fun," Tanni Grey Thompson told me afterwards. "I loved the bus and the fact that it included the Paralympic logo provided a great showcase and will hopefully help people think about the Paralympics."
And so the Games are over for another four years - and the Chinese can be proud of what they have achieved.
But, as the final fireworks shook the stadium and the athletes streamed away from the Bird's Nest and started dreaming of home, for London, the hard work is only beginning.
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