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Paralympics stages last show in shadow of tragedy

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

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.

The upbeat mood in Rio however was darkened late Saturday by the death of Iranian cyclist Bahman Golbarnezhad, 48.

The athlete, who wore a prosthesis on his left leg, fell during a mountainous descent in the road race and died before he could be treated in hospital.

Philip Craven, the International Paralympic Committee president, called the tragedy “truly heart-breaking.”

The Iranian flag flew at half mast in the Athletes’ Village and a minute’s silence was planned at the closing ceremony.

Nevertheless, 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.

“This will be a time for celebration … a final act,” said the ceremony’s producer Flavio Machado, who promised “many Brazilian musicians on stage.”

Defying Expectations

The Japanese say that the Rio Games have set a high standard for them to follow.

“We have been impressed by our experience across both the Olympic and Paralympic Games and inspired by the passion of the Carioca,” said Toshiro Muto, CEO of the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, referring to Rio residents by their nickname.

There had been fears that this wouldn’t be at all how the Rio Games ended.

Even before they started, the Rio organizers’ woeful finances in the wake of the August Olympics and a stunning lack of interest in tickets raised fears of failure.

Then on the eve of the Paralympics, the Brazilian Senate pushed president Dilma Rousseff out of office in a bitter impeachment battle that left the country more distracted than ever. Her replacement and fierce enemy Michel Temer came to the opening ceremony on Sept. 7 and was booed by the crowd.

There were also international tensions over a ban imposed by the International Paralympic Committee on the entire Russian team because of alleged state doping.

But then things got better. The opening ceremony moved viewers with its exuberant set design and the unrestrained joy of the parading athletes.