Sydney said thank you – and farewell – to the all conquering servicemen and women of the world as the Invictus Games Sydney 2018 presented by Jaguar Land Rover came to an end.
In a spectacular closing ceremony, mate ship and medals were on display at Qudos Bank Arena with all 500 competitors and their families coming together after a week of remarkable athletic and human performance.
The past seven days have thrust the spotlight on the recovery and rehabilitation of those people who have been injured, both physically and mentally, while serving their country.
Founder of the Games, The Duke of Sussex, Prince Harry, praised the Games as being “truly magnificent”.
“Your example goes beyond the military community,” he told the competitors to thunderous applause.
“It is about your more than your inspiring stories of recovery from injury and illness.
“It is about your example of determination, of optimism, of strength, honour and friendship, or as the Aussies call it, mate ship. A core value that has the power to inspire the world.”
The Duke of Sussex said the competitors were not super heroes but in fact were “ordinary people doing extraordinary things” who had – and will continue – to inspire the others.
“You do not have to be a veteran that has fought back from injury to be inspired by the Invictus example.” he said.
“You can be a teacher, a doctor, a Mum or a Dad, a child or a grandparent, a farmer, or a plumber, a lawyer or a CEO or anything at all.
“You can identify something in your own life that you want to change for the better and you can let the men and the women of the Invictus Games remind you that no challenge is too difficult to overcome.”
The Duchess of Sussex, reminisced about her own visits to troops prior to meeting her husband, and highlighted the importance family and friends played in the journey of recovery.
“During this year’s Games, I witnessed the most amazing support networks that surround competitors and I have had the privilege to meet their family and friends,” she said before leading a thank you to the supporters.
“The support system on the ground here at Invictus is something unlike any other because it is not cheering on your own, but realising by the end of this week, your own becomes everyone in the Invictus Family.”
The theme of the Closing Ceremony was “respect, knowledge and invitation” embracing the message of new beginnings which the Invictus Games presented to the competitors.
In what was the party of all parties, the competitors were honoured for making their mark Down Under and were encouraged to leave Australia’s shores with a stronger connection to the global Invictus family.
Govenor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove and Lady Cosgrove joined dignitaries, including Australian sporting greats Ian Thorpe, Anna Meares and Stephen Moore, to present each competitor with a commemorative medal as they paraded into the stadium; Afghanistan, the first of the 18, with host nation Australia.
The Governor of New South Wales David Hurley, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and soccer star David Beckham, were among the 12,000-strong Sydney crowd which welcomed the veterans with open arms and hearts over the past week.
The Premier praised the efforts of the 1000 volunteers to a standing ovation before acknowledging the lasting impact the Invictus competitor will have on the city.
“For all of us sharing these Games with you and your families has been our golden experience,” she said.
“As competitors you came together from 18 different nations but leave as one special team of heroes and role models.”
NAIDOC award-winner Chris Tamwoy and Cairns-based Indigenous singers, the Marliya Choir, opened the evening and were followed by a studded line-up which included Grammy-nominated signer Aloe Blacc, ARIA award-winning band Birds of Tokyo, Colin Hay, Starley and the Admiral’s Band and Drum Corps.
The Kingdom Choir, who made international headlines at the recent royal wedding, sang a medley of songs, while Men At Work’s Colin Hay brought the crowd to their feet with Aussie rock favourite “Down Under”.
Two competitors were honoured for their exceptional performances at the Games: New Zealand archer and wheelchair rugby player George Nepata and Dutch tennis and basketballer Edwin Vermetten.
In one of the greatest acts of sportsmanship of the Games, the Australian wheelchair rugby team recognised the sheer determination of Nepata, who is a tetraplegic, in passed the pushing him across the try line.
Vetmetten was recognised for outstanding Invictus spirit he showed UK competitors Paul Guest who was overcome when a chopper flying overhead trigged his PTSD during their tennis match.
The Australian team had they crowd in laughter as they reluctantly handed over the Invictus flag to the hosts of the next Games which will be held in the The Hague, The Netherlands.
Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove has led the charge to continue to promote ways of rehabilitating people who have been injured.
“We must continue to think about their quality of life and their support going forward. This event shines a light; let’s not turn off that light.”
Catriona Dixon and Sascha Ryner
Invictus Games Sydney 2018