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Rio Paralympics ready for closing ceremony

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El Amin Chentouf MAR wins the Men’s T12 Marathon at Fort Copacabana during the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on September 18 2016 © AFP / Al Tielemans for OIS/IOC

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sep 18 – Rio Paralympics organizers declared mission accomplished Sunday ahead of a closing ceremony that will celebrate the against-the-odds success of the Games but also pause to remember an Iranian cyclist killed in a race.

Eleven days of competition where China dominated the medals table, followed by Britain, Ukraine and the United States, ended with the last few events, including marathons and wheelchair rugby.

And at the closing ceremony in Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana football stadium Brazilian officials were officially to hand over to Tokyo for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

“Mission accomplished,” said Carlos Nuzman, president of the Rio Olympic and Paralympic organizing committee.

Referring to the political instability and deep recession weighing down Brazil as it put on South America’s first Olympics in August and then the Paralympics, he conceded that it had been “a mission of many doubts.”

Iran’s players celebrate their gold medal as they hold a picture of Iranian cyclist Bahman Golbarnezhad who died the previous day during a cycling race, on September 18, 2016 © AFP / Christophe Simon

However, the upbeat mood in Rio was marred late Saturday by the death of Iranian cyclist Bahman Golbarnezhad, 48, after a crash.

Philip Craven, the International Paralympic Committee president, said the accident “cast a dark shadow.”

Overall, though, “Rio 2016 will be remembered as a successful Paralympic Games and a Games that surprised many,” he said.

Rio was expected to put on a dazzling show at the Maracana, featuring Brazil’s rich music and dance culture to celebrate a far better Paralympics than many had believed possible. A minute of silence for Golbarnezhad was also scheduled.

– Defying expectations –

Iranian Paralympic cyclist Bahman Golbarnezhad crashed during the more than two-hour C4-5 road race for athletes with varying disabilities © AFP / Simon Bruty for OIS

Watching the Paralympic marathon along the seafront in Copacabana, spectator Marcelo Augusto Miranda Costa said the Games had been “a moment of magic for the city.”

“We’re going to miss them, yes,” he said.

The generally positive ending was quite the turnaround from a few weeks ago when the Rio organizers’ woeful finances in the wake of the August Olympics and a stunning lack of interest in tickets raised fears of failure.

By the end, officials said, they had sold 2.1 million tickets — fewer than London in 2012 but more than Beijing four years earlier. Part of that success, however, was due to many tickets being sold for as little as $3 — or given away to school children in an international fill-the-seats campaign.

Also haunting these Paralympics was Brazil’s political crisis. President Michel Temer, who had just taken power after his rival Dilma Rousseff was thrown out of office in an impeachment vote, was loudly booed by the crowd at both at the Olympic and Paralympic opening ceremonies.

Gerard Descarrega of Spain (R) celebrates with his guide Marcos Blanquino after winning the Men’s 400m – T11 – at Engenhao Stadium in Rio de Janeiro © AFP / Tasso Marcelo

And tensions over a ban imposed by the International Paralympic Committee on the entire Russian team because of alleged state doping remain.

Craven warned Sunday that “major change” will be needed from Russia to be allowed back into Paralympic competition.

“Otherwise the Russian team is in big difficulties,” he said.

– Hot performances –

Michelle Stilwell of Canada celebrates after winning the 100M T52 wheelchair race at the Paralympic Games in Rio on September 17, 2016 © AFP / Christophe Simon

The gap between the Olympic and Paralympic performances is gradually blurring with disabled athletes breaking records after records in Rio.

Among the stars were Brazil’s swimmer Daniel Dias who added four golds, three silvers and two bronzes to his existing medal haul from Beijing and London — which has won him descriptions as the Michael Phelps of the Paralympics.

There was amazement in the 1,500m track race when Algeria’s Abdellatif Baka set a new record that was actually faster than the winning time by Olympic gold medalist Matthew Centrowitz in the same stadium a month earlier. However, Centrowitz won in what was by Olympic standards a near-record slow race, meaning Baka’s outstanding time was of mostly symbolic significance.

Brazil’s swimmer Daniel Dias was one of the stars of the Paralympics, adding four golds, three silvers and two bronzes to his existing medal haul from Beijing and London © OIS/IOC/AFP / Bob Martin for OIS

Once more, it was China that dominated overall, with almost 100 medals more than its nearest rival, Britain, which held a comfortable second place.

The big country missing in the top section of the standings, however, was Russia, which during the London Games won 102 medals, including 36 golds.

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