The 2010 Winter Paralympics win the title of “best ever” as the flame goes out one last time in Vancouver and Whistler, hosts as well of the Winter Olympics held in February.
As the Winter Paralympics closed Sunday after 10 days, International Paralympic Committee president Philip Craven declared the experience as the “the best ever Winter Paralympic Games”.
An intimate ceremony in Whistler Medals Plaza was the setting for the extinguishing of the Paralympic flame and the passing of a lit torch from Canadian children to a group of Russian youths.
“We found something special here in British Columbia, and while the world noticed our patriotic celebration and excitement, we at Vancouver 2010 felt it,” Furlong said. “It is with humility and more than a little regret that we now say good-bye.”
Furlong spoke earlier than scheduled so he could travel to Georgia for a Tuesday memorial honoring Olympic luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, victim of a fatal training crash in Whistler on Feb. 12.
The ceremony featured more than 500 Paralympians from 44 countries marching through Whistler Village to the ceremony.
The 90-minute production, titled With Glowing Hearts, was the last event of Vancouver’s Winter Games period.
Nunavut throat singer Tanya Tagaq set the tone for the pageant as Paralympian Kelly Smith of Vancouver left his wheelchair and was thrown high above the audience before he was safely caught in a traditional Inuit blanket toss.
Saskatoon cross-country skier Colette Bourgonje and Japanese sledge hockey captain Endo Takayuki of Japan received the special Whang Youn Dai achievement gold medals.
Furlong paid tribute to the inspiration of Canadian Paralympians.
“Lauren (Woolstencroft), Brian (McKeever) and Viviane (Forest) – you are Canada’s newest heroes,” he said.
“Every Canadian child now knows who you are, but to every Paralympian from every country, you have shown us that for the human heart there is no worthy adversary.”
Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed joined Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson to pass the Paralympic flag to Sochi Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov via Craven.
Music from the Tchaikovsky classic Nutcracker suite accompanied images of a sand artist animation and an ice dance by Paralympic swimming champion Olesya Vladykina and Olympic figure skating champion Ilia Kulik.
Speaking at a closing press conference, Craven said the 230,000 tickets sold (out of an inventory of 250,000) was a record for the Winter Paralympics. Of those sold, 30,200 tickets were distributed for $5 each to elementary and high school students.
“It’s been a unique experience in the venues which has been ‘pro-Canada’, ‘Go Canada Go’ but a lot of ‘go – every other country’ too,” Craven said.
Craven said 50,000 viewers a day watched action online via ParalympicSport.TV.
Reflecting on the decade-long job of heading the organization from bid stage to Games-end, Furlong said: “I regret not a second of it, but I say to anybody who wants to take on something like this they have to be ready to realize that it’s never going to go away until it’s over.”
VANOC winds-up its operations in 2011. Though deputy CEO Dave Cobb is forecasting break-even, he wouldn’t dismiss the possibility of a small deficit or small surplus on the $1.76 billion operating budget. He expected most of the IOC’s $22 million summer 2009 rescue pledge would be used. Any surplus would be donated to amateur sport.
It could be months before the books are closed and Cobb cautioned that many variables exist, such as the size of compensation for owners of Whistler Blackcomb and Cypress Mountain.
“There is no way we’re going to be exactly balanced to the penny, we’re either going to be a little bit below or a little bit better,” Cobb said.
“We’re very confident now we will be better.”
With reporting from Bob Mackin in Vancouver.
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