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After rocking Rio, ParalympicsGB set sights on Tokyo triumph

Published 19/09/2016

The closing ceremony of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games at the Maracana Stadium in Rio (AP)
The closing ceremony of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games at the Maracana Stadium in Rio (AP)

Rio passed the Paralympic Games baton to Tokyo on Sunday night - and Great Britain's victorious athletes immediately set their sights on inspiring the next generation of talent for 2020.

There was a sombre atmosphere in the air at the closing ceremony but also one of unity, with tributes to Iranian cyclist Bahman Golbarnezhad who died on Saturday, and a rendition of Bob Marley's One Love.

ParalympicsGB - fielding 264 athletes in 19 of the 22 sports - finished second on the medal table to China, winning 64 gold medals and 147 in all over 11 days of competition.

There were 119 medallists, 44 of them multi-medallists. Five British women - cyclist Dame Sarah Storey, swimmer Bethany Firth, wheelchair racer Hannah Cockroft and equestrian riders Sophie Christiansen and Natasha Baker - won three gold medals.

Kadeena Cox landed four medals, two of them gold, at her maiden Games, two years after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

The 25-year-old from Leeds became the first Briton in 28 years to win medals in two sports at one Games and the first in 32 years to claim gold medals in two sports at the same Paralympics.

Cox won the C4/C5 500 metres time-trial in the velodrome and the T38 400m on the running track. She set world records in both events.

She persuaded British Cycling and British Athletics to allow her to double up, proving her sceptical coaches wrong, and it paid dividends.

Cox wants to encourage others to explore what is possible.

"I wasn't disabled in London, but I watched the Paralympics," Cox said.

"When I was diagnosed with my condition I sat in my hospital bed and decided I wanted to go to Rio. That was what I was going to do.

"To be here and to have won medals and to do it in the fashion that I've done it is just amazing.

"When I first set out the journey was just about me and just a girl that wanted to go to the Paralympics.

"And then it became the journey of wanting to win medals, but not for me, for other people.

"Giving other people someone to look at, someone that can empower them who has overcome setbacks, disabilities, illnesses.

"You can make the most of these things. That's why I wanted to be here and do something different and push the boundaries.

"Show people what we're able to do, rather than what we're not able to do.

"That's why it's really special. I got the medals, but being able to spread a message is way more important than the medals.

"Yes, we have disabilities, but it's not stopping us from being totally amazing. We can show the world how amazing we are."

Britain's medal haul was their third highest in the history of the Paralympic Games, which formally began in 1960 in Rome, having had origins at Stoke Mandeville in Buckinghamshire.

Britain won 107 golds at the New York/Stoke Mandeville Games of 1984 and 65 at the 1988 Seoul Paralympics.

It appeared on Saturday's penultimate day that the Seoul tally would be passed, only for the team to fall one short.

The statistics were breathtaking nonetheless, with Britain winning 12% of medals available for a best return since 1968, when Paralympic sport was in a different era.

The 11 gold medal-winning sports - archery, athletics, boccia, cycling, canoeing, equestrian, rowing, swimming, table tennis, triathlon and wheelchair tennis - equals the record held by China from the 2008 Games in Beijing.

Winning medals in 15 sports - powerlifting, sailing, wheelchair basketball and wheelchair fencing the additional four - matches the record the United States set in Athens in 2004.

Russian athletes were absent - banned by the International Paralympic Committee for state-sponsored doping - but British athletes could only face the opposition present.

Britons recorded 49 Paralympic records and 27 world records. The eldest and youngest athletes in ParalympicsGB - 67-year-old equestrian rider Anne Dunham and swimmer Abby Kane, 13 - claimed medals.

Five sports - archery, canoeing, cycling, equestrian and rowing - topped their sport-specific medal table.

Golbarnezhad was the first athlete to die during a Paralympic competition, the International Paralympic Committee said, after a crash in Saturday's men's C4/C5 road race. He was 48.

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