Fireworks explode during the closing ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympic Games
Beijing’s Winter Paralympics closed 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.
In his closing ceremony speech, International Paralympic Committee (IPC) president Andrew Parsons hailed the athletes as “beacons of hope, and champions for peace”.
“Through this unity we have hope. Hopes for inclusion, hopes for harmony, and importantly hopes 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.
And in the closing ceremony, not all of his speech was translated into Chinese for the domestic audience, with phrases including “champions for peace” and “hopes for peace” omitted.
Controversy concerning whether athletes from Russia and ally Belarus should be allowed to compete overshadowed the lead-up to the Games.
The IPC initially said it would allow them to compete as neutrals, but after threats of boycotts from other competitors and tensions rising in the athletes’ village, organizers banned them.
After an arduous journey to the Chinese capital, Ukraine’s athletes came a remarkable second in the medals table after their best performance in a Winter Paralympics.
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.
Team veteran Vitalii Lukianenko, 43 — who won double gold and a silver in the biathlon — carried the Ukrainian flag at the closing ceremony.
“To compete here at such a high level knowing their family and nation is under attack is just incredible,” he said.
China emerged as a force to be reckoned with — topping the medal count ahead of Ukraine, Canada, France and the United States — with 18 golds and 61 medals in all.
“For certain, China is now a Paralympic winter sports powerhouse,” Parsons told the closing ceremony.
The United States swept past Canada 5-0 to take the para-ice hockey gold.