Courage burned into memory as Flame Festival ends Games

Stunning effects and raw courage signalled the end of the Paralympic Games in London last night.

The closing ceremony – billed as the Festival of the Flame – lived up to its name as flame throwers, blazing torches and a gigantic heart of fire lit up the Olympic Stadium.

Wounded military personnel took key roles in the ceremony. War hero Captain Luke Sinnott, who lost his legs and an arm in a blast in Afghanistan, climbed a flagpole to proudly fly the Union Flag in what organisers described as a “supreme feat of strength and courage”.

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It marked a fitting end to the games where ParalympicsGB excelled to beat their medal target of 103 in front of sell-out crowds and unprecedented TV audiences.

The audience roared as Britain’s joint flagbearers, wheelchair racer David Weir and cyclist Sarah Storey, who each won four golds, were joined by athletes from each country. Only hours before, Weir had won gold in the marathon lifting Great Britain to a final medal tally of 120 – 34 gold, 43 silver and 43 bronze – to finish third in the table.

Stephen Daldry, London 2012’s executive producer for all the opening and closing ceremonies, described the flag unveiling by Capt Sinnott as “devastatingly emotional”.

Comrades from the charity played a key role in the opening minutes of the ceremony to support Capt Sinnott.

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The team joined forces to manoeuvre a heavy-wheeled machine to raise the flagpole.

Closing ceremonies artistic director Kim Gavin said: “We worked quite hard since April to get their performance right – it is really their endeavour.

“It is really a team effort from their point of view and has been quite emotional when you go down there and have worked with them.

“They are a fantastic bunch of people and they have been so collaborative as well.”

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Fifty four drummers created an avenue through which the Earl of Wessex, representing the Queen, and International Paralympic Committee chairman Sir Philip Craven entered the stadium.

They arrived in a custom-built car that began life as a military vehicle used in Afghanistan and was driven by Captain Tony Harris, who lost his left leg below the knee when he was caught in a blast in Sangin, Afghanistan in 2009.

The spectacular and moving ceremony was another display of creativity and British eccentricity, and featured global megastars Coldplay, Rihanna and Jay-Z.

The ceremony included some stunning effects and over 1,000 performers, including a cast of disabled artists, who had spent weeks learning circus skills for the show.

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Soldier Rory Mackenzie, whose leg was blown off by a roadside bomb in Iraq, praised Paralympians’ “indomitable human spirit”.

He told the crowd: “Tonight we celebrate that spirit and although we have many differences, there is one quality we all share, one thing all of us have in common: human spirit.

“We have all been touched by the triumphs and drama of the Paralympics, witness to the indomitable human spirit of the athletes.

“We have come together in peace for the Games and through that respect for each other, found hope for the future.”

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Teenage swimming star – and face of the games – Ellie Simmonds, 17, was joined by sprinting sensation Jonnie Peacock, 19, to play a part in the final moments of the Games.

As the Paralympic cauldron was extinguished they transferred the final flame to a London Paralympic Torch, which was then used to light hundreds of torches held by members of the cast throughout the field of play.

Fountains of water rose from circular stages to finally extinguish the Paralympic Flame.

The stunning send-off ended with a spectacular firework display that flashed over the Olympic Stadium and Park.

Fireworks lit up the sky along the Thames, including Tower Bridge and the words “Thank you London, thank you UK” were projected onto the Houses of Parliament.

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