Extravaganza ends of elite sports in China

The fourth and final extravaganza of light and spectacle in Beijing’s Bird’s Nest marked the official end of a hugely successful Paralympics Wednesday and of six weeks of elite sports in the Chinese capital.

The Paralympics were not quite the broadcasting milestone that the Olympics were — in August, rights holder NBC had 2,700 employees working here, which it cut back to five for the Paralympics.

Still, a sellout crowd of 91,000 watched as the ceremonial flame was extinguished and the event formally handed over to London, which will host the next Olympics and Paralympics in 2012.

Altogether 4,000 athletes from 147 regions and countries took part in the Paralympics, which have done a lot to help conditions for people with disabilities in China.

China, which led the gold-medal table in the Olympics, did the same in the Paralympics, winning 89 gold and 211 overall. Britain was second with 42 gold and 102 overall. The U.S., which has been criticized for not doing enough to boost sports for people with disabilities, was in third place with 36 and 99.

Among the stars of the Paralympics were South African swimmer Natalie Du Toit, who also competed in the Olympics and won five Paralympic gold medals. Her compatriot Oscar Pistorius, a double-amputee sprinter who runs on carbon-fiber legs, won three golds in 100, 200 and 400 meters, and he hopes to run against able-bodied athletes in next year’s world championships in Berlin, as well as the London Games.

The number of athletes is expected to increase to 4,200 in London, which is where the first Paralympics were held as the Stoke Mandeville games, organized by German neurologist Ludwig Guttman in 1946 to help with the healing process for soldiers wounded in WWII.

Beijing residents were making the most of the last days free of serious pollution and heavy traffic — odd-even number plate traffic restrictions will be lifted on Saturday, adding 2 million vehicles to the roads, and polluting power plants and steel factories will start producing again, bringing back the smog.

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