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March 21, 2010

Golden Goodbye, Paralympics come to a close

The Paralympic flag has been lowered in Whistler and the flame has been extinguished, bringing to an end 10 days of competition which saw Canada set new standards when it comes to medals won and the promotion of the Paralympic movement.

In declaring the Paralympic Games closed, International Paralympic President Sir Philip Craven called them "the best ever" Games while noting that the medals were among the most beautiful he had seen.

Despite cloudy skies and dropping temperatures, thousands packed the celebration plaza in Whistler. Athletes cheerfully entered along a parade route lined with hundreds more who couldn't get tickets to the sold out event.

The program included performances by an Inuit throat singer, a Lil'wat Nation hoop dancer and Winnipeg's Chantal Kreviazuk.

The Disabled Skiers Association of B.C. led a torch light ski down Whistler Mountain. Approximately 125 skiers of all ages made their way down the mountain using various modes of transportation - from traditional skis and poles to sit-skis.

As the national anthem was being sung, a huge Canadian flag was unfurled over the audience gathered to watch the ceremony in the stadium.

"You reflect the best kind of human character, integrity and focus," said VANOC chief executive officer John Furlong of the athletes gathered in the stadium. "Many of you will go home as champions. All of you will go home as winners."

"Lauren (Woolstencroft), Brian (McKeever), Viviane (Forest) - you are Canada's newest heroes," he said of Canada's top three medal recipients of these Games. "Every Canadian child knows who you are,"

"Canada's Games are over -- we did it!" added Furlong,

"If we have had success, it was because all 33 million Canadians for an instant became loyal trusted team mates. We were 'Team Canada - Equipe Canada' -- not the few but the many. We did this together -- all of us living every moment and all the drama like we ourselves were the athletes."

Organizers of these games were the first to promote the Olympics and Paralympics together, including by jointly naming some venues such as the Vancouver Olympic/Paralympic Centre curling rink.

"What that's done for the Paralympic movement is take it to a whole new level," said Blair McIntosh, Chef de Mission for the Canadian Paralympic Committee, adding that the lessons for London's summer games in 2012 and Sochi in 2014 will be to prepare for more public interest.

"Future hosts can gain from Vancouver and Whistler's awareness and promotion of the Paralympics with the Olympics," McIntosh said.

Cross-Country sit skier Colette Bourgonja, who won Canada's first medal of the Paralympic Games, was presented with the Whang Youn Dai Achievement Award honouring elite athletes with a disability who demonstrate exceptional determination overcoming adversity through sport and the Paralympic Games.

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