They were called by some the greatest Paralympic Games ever, a 12-day celebration in London that broke records for attendance, revenue and attention.
As the London 2012 Paralympic Games came to a close Sept. 9, 80,000 fans packed Olympic Stadium for the Closing Ceremony to say goodbye to a competition in which more than 4,200 athletes from 164 nations captured the hearts of people across the globe, and turned several men and women into stars.
Charlie Huebner, chief of Paralympics for the U.S. Olympic Committee, called the London Games “fabulous.” Others believe these Games have vaulted the Paralympic Movement to a new level.
“In this country, we will never think of sport the same way and we will never think of disability the same way,” said British Olympic champion runner Lord Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London Organizing Committee, during the Closing Ceremony. “The Paralympians have lifted the cloud of limitation.”
As Team USA entered the stadium for the Closing Ceremony, it was led by flag bearer Navy Lt. Brad Snyder, who served as one of the greatest examples of perseverance and athletic achievement at the Games and the embodiment of Coe’s remarks.
A year after losing his sight because of a bomb blast in Afghanistan, the former Naval Academy swimmer won two gold medals in London and was part of a contingent of 20 military veterans and active-duty personnel on the U.S. Paralympic Team of 227.
“This Games experience is the result of all my support from my family, friends, coaches and countless others,” Snyder said. “The medals don’t mean anything to me, but they are a thank you to my support network and my team. To be able to carry the flag for my team, my country, that is what means a lot to me.”
The inclusion of more U.S. veterans and military members on the team this year in London was not only a great opportunity for the athletes, but fitting in that the Paralympic Movement was returning to its roots, having been born in the United Kingdom in 1948 to help wounded veterans of World War II.
Huebner expressed pride in the performance of American athletes across the board, but specifically mentioned the participation of veterans such as Snyder. Huebner, at a news conference for Snyder, called the military members and veterans on the team “great ambassadors for our nation.”
As a whole, the U.S. team finished fourth in total medals at the Games with 98, winning 31 gold, 29 silver and 38 bronze medals. It was one less than the total of 99 won at the 2008 Games in Beijing when the United States was third overall, and 10 more than the 88 won in Athens in 2004 when Team USA was fourth.
Though the United States finished behind China (231), Great Britain (120) and Russia (102) in total medals in London, Huebner said Team USA had some incredible performances from its national team athletes, but also has much work to be done, especially in the athlete identification area to build strong pipelines of future Paralympic podium-potential athletes. Highlighted performances include:
Jessica Long: The 20-year-old swimmer, who was competing in her third Paralympic Games, won eight medals in London, including five golds, and now has 17 Paralympic medals in her career. She won the 100 free, 400 free, 100 fly, 100 breaststroke and the 200 individual medley in London.
Tatyana McFadden: The wheelchair racer — who came into these Games already with six Paralympic medals at the age of 23 — set out to win five medals in races of five distances (100, 400, 800 and 1,500 meters and the marathon), and she almost did it. McFadden won three golds and a bronze and might have medaled in the marathon if she hadn’t been slowed by two flat tires.
Shirley Reilly: She won the T54 wheelchair women’s marathon, surging past the leading group near the end of the race to beat Shelly Woods of Great Britain by one second on a scenic course near Buckingham Palace that was lined with thousands of spectators on the final day of the Games.
Richard Browne: In one the most anticipated events of these Paralympic Games, the T44 men’s 100-meter sprint, the 21-year-old American sprinter captured a surprising silver, beating acclaimed South African Oscar Pistorius and two decorated Team USA teammates in Jerome Singleton and Blake Leeper.
Raymond Martin: Just 18, the wheelchair racer didn’t have high expectations going into his first Paralympic Games, yet he wound up winning gold medals in all four events he entered in the T52 classification: the 100-, 200-, 400- and 800-meter races.
Jeremy Campbell: The American defended his Paralympic discus gold medal in the F44 class with a throw of 60.05 meters in front of a crowd of 80,000. Campbell won the discus event four years ago in Beijing in addition to a gold in the pentathlon, which no longer is part of the Paralympic program.
Jeff Fabry: The archer won the first American gold medal in the sport since 1984, defeating defending Paralympic champion David Drahoninsky of the Czech Republic in the compound W1 final.
Nick Taylor and David Wagner: The longtime wheelchair tennis duo won a third consecutive gold in men’s quad doubles. Then Wagner added a silver in singles (to give him six career Paralympic medals) and Taylor earned his first singles medal, a bronze.
Joe Berenyi: The 43-year-old cyclist from Illinois goes home with a gold, silver and bronze from his first Paralympic Games and a world record set in qualifying for the Individual C3 Pursuit event in which he won his gold.
Marianna “Muffy” Davis: Won two cycling Paralympic gold medals, one in the H 1-3 individual road race and another in the H 1-2 individual time trial.
Allison Jones: She capped off London with two medals, a gold and bronze in cycling. She won the gold in the C 1-3 Individual Time Trial and bronze in the C1 -3 individual road race. She is also a Paralympic skier.
Mallory Weggemann: Reclassified shortly before the start of her 50-meter race in London, Weggemann went out to capture the first Paralympic medal of her career, a gold. She was clocked at 31.13 seconds, setting a Paralympic record.
Victoria Arlen: At just 17, the swimmer from Boston set a world record while winning gold in the S6 100 meters to go with three silvers (in the 50-meter free, 400-meter free and 4x100-mter free relay).
Wheelchair rugby team: The Americans lost just one game — by only a point in the semifinals to Canada — but then rebounded to beat Japan in the bronze-medal game, giving the United States medals in all four Paralympic Games since rugby was added in 2000.
Men’s Wheelchair basketball: Team USA avenged a loss to Great Britain in the bronze- medal game four years ago in Beijing by beating the 2012 hosts, 61-46.
Rob Jones and Oksana Masters: The double mixed skulls team won bronze in London, the first ever medal for Team USA in that event.
JP Creignou and Jen French: The sailors teamed to win a silver medal in the SKUD-18 (two-person keelboat) class by winning three races in the series.