Coldplay and an all-star support cast were ready to bring the curtain down on the most-watched and best-attended Paralympic Games of all time Sunday, ending a six-week-long festival of sport in the British capital that began with the hugely successful Olympics.
Rapper Jay Z and pop star Rihanna were preparing to collaborate with the English rock band in a three-hour extravaganza at the 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium honouring the spirit of festivals throughout British history.
Central to the ceremony — called the "Festival of the Flame" — were the 4,200 Paralympians from 164 nations who sat around the field of play 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 iconic figure of the Paralympics.
After a moving tribute to wounded British servicemen and members of the British army, a motorcade of travellers in 25 trucks were ready to storm the stadium and kick-start Coldplay's set list that artistic director Kim Gavin wanted to reflect the four seasons which are at the heart of the show.
Top-selling hits like "Clocks," ''Viva La Vida" and "Paradise" will be belted out, rocking an arena that has been the focus of the sporting world since the end of July.
The baton was to be handed to Rio when the cauldron — made up of 200 petals — is extinguished, ending the biggest games in the 52-year history of the Paralympics.
"On August 29, we opened with the theme of 'Enlightenment,'" said Sir Philip Craven, president of the International Paralympic Committee. "Tonight, we are enlightened and armed with a superior knowledge of what can be achieved. The legacy of these games will be long-lasting."
The 2012 Paralympics have broken all records, with 2.7 million spectators cramming into venues and more than US$70 million raised in ticket sales — both unprecedented figures as the British public displayed a previously unseen enthusiasm for Paralympic sport. The games were broadcast in more than 100 countries, allowing Paralympians to become household names.
"You have made these games a triumph of human endeavor and international collaboration and helped make a statement about why sport matters so much as a catalyst for hope and change in difficult and challenging times," said Sebastian Coe, chairman of London's organising committee. "You have inspired a generation."
Such was the global attraction of performing at the closing ceremony, organisers were able to turn down approaches to appear. Rihanna, Jay Z and Coldplay — acclaimed artists who have sold millions of records between them — were being paid a nominal one pound (US$1.60) to play.
"Being at the Paralympics is the biggest honour," Rihanna said. "These athletes are gladiators and are a true inspiration to me."