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Australia's Olympic, Paralympic athletes light up Sydney Opera House to end Tokyo 2020 Games

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The Sydney Opera House displaying the images of Australia's Olympians and Paralympians on Sunday night. (NSW government )

The Sydney Opera House displaying the images of Australia's Olympians and Paralympians on Sunday night.

So that's it then.

Tokyo 2020, awarded in 2013, after an unprecedented year-long postponement, has come to a close in 2021.

The Games, both Olympic, and Paralympic have taken on a different meaning this time around.

The athletes seemed more remarkable, whether they won or not; their stories seemed more genuine, less concocted; the memories for many will hold a special significance.

Out of a global pandemic, athletes from every nation except North Korea came together, defying a controversial backdrop of uncertainty.

Call it off, they said, it will be a super spreader event, they said, the Japanese don't want it, they said.

The last part, at least, was true.

But once Japan's Olympic athletes began to shine, the locals' animosity to the Games they were paying for but were excluded from attending began to subside.

By the time the Paralympics began a little under two weeks ago, around three-quarters of those polled were in support, as opposed to the meagre 13 percent that was looking forward to the Olympics back in July.

As the Paralympic cauldron was extinguished in the National Stadium on Sunday night a show of another kind was unfolding on the sails of the Sydney Opera House.

With various states of lockdown still affecting many in Australia, there was no chance for ticker-tape parades and crowded streets of cheering supporters to celebrate our returning athletes.

A modern twist for an age-old tradition was found.

Athletes and their families everywhere – whether still in Tokyo, in quarantine back in Australia, or competing in Europe like Peter Bol and Jessica Fox – could tune into a five-and-a-half-hour Livestream like no other.

All 665 of Australia's Paralympians and Olympians had their faces and names projected onto the Opera House sails for 30 seconds each, giving them their moment in the spotlight.

Two official photographers captured thousands of photos from the Livestream along with Olympic and Paralympic montages and "Thank you Tokyo" shots, with every athlete to receive a personalised image as an Australian-made gift to remember their Tokyo experience.

According to the NSW government, it was the largest collection of images ever projected onto the Sydney Opera House.

Working with the Australian Olympic Committee, Paralympics Australia, Sydney Opera House, and The Electric Canvas, the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet managed the project, collecting every athlete's image over two weeks then mapping them onto a design concept to fit the Opera House sails.

The Games have been credited with giving people in every state and territory a positive boost and a break from the stress of lockdown and the seemingly never-ending coverage of COVID.

Australia's athletes were impressive right to the end, with Madison de Rozario winning the women's Paralympic marathon while teammate and marathon newcomer Jaryd Clifford finished with a silver in the men's event on the final day.

Reflecting the full array of views to the end, Kyodo News reported that while athletes were full of praise for the organisers and volunteers, there will always be those who were against the event from start to finish.

A taxi driver in his 70s told the news agency he changed the channel whenever he saw the Olympics or Paralympics on TV, despite previously claiming to be an Olympic enthusiast.

But then there was the 34-year old mother with her two-year-old son who gathered with others to watch Sunday's marathon as it passed through the city streets.

"I know I shouldn't be here," she said, "but it was really moving … my son won't remember watching it, but I want to tell him when he is older."

While the Games are nothing without the athletes, and they deserve their Opera House tribute, many of them will tell you their own lasting memories will be of the volunteers who for days on end stood in the heat and humidity directing busloads of competitors and officials.

They were also making sure the fridges stayed full of water or were simply charged with reminding every single person that passed through the security gates to "please, sanitise your hands".

Nozomi Hosoda, who volunteered at the tennis venue, told Kyodo News it had been her dream since junior high school to help out at a home Olympic and Paralympic Games, although she was uncertain until the final minute.

"I couldn't tell anyone that I was going to volunteer, and I used to hide my volunteer uniform when I took the train," she said.

"But I'm so glad that I did volunteer. I'm so proud of this experience."

As a final tribute, the Olympic Information Service in Tokyo compiled some of the best quotes of the Paralympic Games, which we share with you now as a final farewell:

"I wouldn't change anything. I'd break my neck again if I could."

Australian wheelchair rugby player, Richard Voris on "living the dream" after his friend accidentally jumped on his neck while swimming, leaving him a quadriplegic.

"When I modelled for (US fashion label) Tommy Hilfiger I had this realisation that this perfect body does not exist; only a handful of people have this type of body, this lifestyle. If you look around, all of us have little bumps and bruises all over us and we are all imperfect."

US swimmer Haven Shepherd, who lost both her legs at 14 months old when her parents strapped a bomb to themselves and held her in their arms in an attempted family suicide in Vietnam.

"I love what the Paralympics represents – it represents more than sport, it represents people with disability, succeeding in what they love, it gives us purpose, it gives us a passion, it changes cultures, changes perceptions. We can work, we can get jobs, we can be teachers, we can be mums, we can be dads, we can travel, we can be partners, we can have kids, we can do so much."

Australia's tennis quad singles gold medalist Dylan Alcott, on the power of the Paralympics.

"It was so good to have a female on the podium – that just happened to be me."

British track cyclist Kadeena Cox who won the gold medal in the C1-5 750m team sprint, reflecting on being the only woman in the mixed team final.

"I was literally swimming using one lung. I risked my life by coming here because my right lung is not functioning. But I came here to deliver a message representing millions of refugees around the world. There are thousands and thousands of disabled refugee athletes who are counting on me, so I didn't want to let them down."

Syrian-born swimmer Ibrahim Al Hussein, representing the Refugee Paralympic Team, revealing he competed at Tokyo against the advice of his doctor.

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