Pascoe carries flag as Paralympics end
Christchurch swimming sensation Sophie Pascoe entered the main stadium at the London Paralympics for the first time today - as New Zealand's flagbearer for the closing ceremony.
Pascoe completed an outstanding Games at the Aquatics Centre in Olympic Park, collecting three gold and three silver medals from her six events to spearhead an impressive 17-medal haul for the 24-strong Kiwi contingent.
The 19-year-old skipped the opening ceremony two weeks ago as she was competing the next day - when she won the first of her medals - and had not stepped foot inside the 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium until today, despite it being less than 200 metres from the swimming complex.
'''I'm a proud Kiwi and this is just another reward for my success,'' she said before undertaking her flagbearer duty.
''Not getting to experience the opening ceremony, this will be doubly special.''
London's spectacular summer of sports was given a rousing send-off.
Coldplay and an all-star support cast brought the curtain down on the most-watched and best-attended Paralympic Games, ending a six-week festival of sport in the British capital that began with the hugely successful Olympics.
Rapper Jay-Z and pop star Rihanna collaborated with the English rock band in a three-hour extravaganza, honouring the spirit of festivals throughout British history.
Central to the ceremony, called the Festival of the Flame, were the 4200 Paralympians from 164 nations who sat around the field from the start.
The past 11 days of memorable competition have shifted perceptions and shattered stereotypes, ensuring disabled sport will never be seen in the same light.
''I think people are going to look back at this Paralympic Games and for the first time really, truly believe that Paralympic sport is not just inspirational, it's hard-core sport,'' said South African double-amputee Oscar Pistorius, the leading figure of the Paralympics.
A moving tribute to wounded British servicemen and members of the British Army opened the show and saw Luke Sinnott, a captain who lost both legs from above the knee in an explosion in Afghanistan in 2010, hang the Union Flag at the top of flagpole in the middle of the stadium.
The baton was to be handed to Rio de Janeiro when the cauldron, made up of 200 petals, is extinguished, ending the biggest Games in the 52-year history of the Paralympics.
The 2012 Paralympics have broken all records, with 2.7 million spectators cramming into venues and more than $70 million raised in ticket sales - both unprecedented figures as the British public displayed a previously unseen enthusiasm for Paralympic sport.
In total, 251 world records were broken over the 11 days.
''I think it's been an absolute triumph from start to finish,'' said British Prime Minister David Cameron, whose disabled son, Ivan, died in 2009.
''I think back to Ivan. As every parent, you think about all the things they can't do, but at the Paralympics they are superhuman; you see all the things they can do.''
Such was the global attraction of performing at the closing ceremony that organisers were able to turn down approaches to appear. Rihanna, Jay Z and Coldplay - acclaimed artists who have sold millions of records among them - were being paid a nominal one pound ($NZ2) to play.