BEIJING: Beijing capped its six-week run as the centre of world sports, ushering out the Paralympic Games on Wednesday with a lavish closing ceremony.

The ceremony marked the end of seven intensive years of preparations and US$40 billion in spending on venues and infrastructure.

A 91,000 sellout in the Bird’s Nest National Stadium saw the ceremonial flame extinguished and the event formally handed over to London, which will host the next Olympics and Paralympics in 2012.

As with the Olympics, officials praised their Chinese hosts for the striking venues, tight organisation and lauded stadiums that were mostly filled for 11 days of competition.

The Games were held in near perfect weather with blue skies and light traffic, leaving Beijing’s chronic air pollution a distant memory.

China led the gold-medal table in the Olympics and did the same in the Paralympics, winning 89 gold and 211 overall. Britain was No. 2 with 42 gold and 102 overall. The United States was No. 3 with 36-99.

South African swimmer Natalie Du Toit, who also competed in the Olympics, won five gold medals. She lost her left leg after a 2001 motorcycle crash.

Compatriot Oscar Pistroius, a double-amputee sprinter who runs on carbon fibre legs, won three golds in track and field: 100, 200 and 400.

He is hoping to run against able-bodied athletes in next year’s world championships in Berlin, and the London Games. Du Toit also plans to compete in the regular Olympics in London, in the 800-meter freestyle and the 10-kilometer open-water swim.

Four athletes were sent home for failing pre-competition doping tests — a German wheelchair basketballer, and powerlifters from Pakistan, Ukraine and Mali.

Four thousand athletes from 147 regions and countries took part. That number is expected to reach 4,200 in Britain, which gave birth to the modern-day Paralympic Games. — AP

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