ORLANDO, Fla. -- The 2016 Invictus Games are complete, and one thing is unmistakably clear: Toronto has a lot of work to do if it intends to match the scale and impact of this year's event when it plays host in 2017.
The Invictus Games were launched in London in 2014, as an international athletic competition for wounded, injured and ill military personnel and veterans. For the inaugural event, there were more than 400 competitors representing 13 nations at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
The games grew to nearly 500 competitors representing 14 nations in this second edition, and several athletes said the media coverage and atmosphere were turned up a notch at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Music thumped through a number of competition venues as dancers, drummers and entertainers whipped up the energy level at big events.
United Kingdom powerlifter Micky Yule, who has won Invictus gold medals in 2014 and 2016, said he likes the energy that has been added.
"It's a bit more glamour, a bit more show biz," Yule says. "Which is good, because you need to get the crowd involved. You need the crowd to feel that they want to lift as much as you do."
After the U.K. built a sturdy foundation for the Invictus Games, the U.S. was able to take the event to the next level. A big reason for that, according to many competitors, was the ability to create a de facto athletes village by putting up many competitors and families at the same resort.
"Everyone has been so friendly. It's just had a really good spirit," says Yule's wife, Jody, who also attended in London. "A more pumped-up atmosphere at this one. For the people who aren't friends and family, you want them to know there is as much sport going on here as there are in able-bodied sports. These are serious athletes just the same as everybody else. You're not coming to watch them for pity."
It was a week full of unforgettable events; competitors, families and spectators bonded over athleticism, skill, fortitude and compassion. Here are a few of our favorite moments:
The Invictus message was delivered artfully at Sunday's Opening Ceremony. First lady Michelle Obama saluted the sacrifices made by families and caregivers of wounded service members and veterans. Prince Harry, the patriarch of the Invictus Games, thoughtfully urged anyone dealing with mental health issues not to be ashamed to seek help.
But the most powerful moment belonged to U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Israel Del Toro Jr., whose impassioned speech showed anyone and everyone that his resolve hasn't wavered since he was badly burned in an explosion in Afghanistan a decade ago. "Stay strong. Finish strong," Del Toro urged. "Never f---ing quit!"
The Invictus Games doesn't keep an official medal count. This is almost certainly for two reasons: 1) The competition and community are the true focus of the event -- not the spoils of victory; 2) The playing field is tilted toward the U.K. and U.S. because those nations send so many more competitors than other countries.
Still, the Royal Family and First Family were willing to engage in some playful trash talk beforehand.
So it might be worth checking the scoreboard, after all -- just for fun, of course. Unofficially, ESPN scored the rivalry like this:
United States: 51 gold, 49 silver, 45 bronze = 145 total
United Kingdom: 49 gold, 45 silver, 34 bronze = 128 total
Pretty close, but it's tough to win on the road.
A true sportsman
Australia's Mark Uruquart deferred to Steven Simmons at the conclusion of a grueling men's 1,500-meter wheelchair race. Uruquart held a lead approaching the finish line, then slowed and grabbed Simmons' left hand to provide a helpful final push.
"I got my gold, and I'm absolutely stoked with what I've achieved in the last games," Uruquart says. "I've been in the chair for nine years, so I know how tough it is. These guys are just learning, so I'm happy for Steven to get the gold. It couldn't have gone to a better man."
Uruquart won gold in his classes of the 200, 400 and 800 races.
Ulfat Al-Zwiri was the only female competitor among 17 athletes from Jordan, but no one made a bigger impression.
Al-Zwiri is paralyzed below the waist and has limited use of her hands as the results of a car accident. Racing in the 100-meter wheelchair race, she also struggled with a borrowed specialized chair. Long after opponents had finished, Al-Zwiri was still fighting her way down the track.
U.K. racers Kirsty Wallace and Anna Pollock, who finished fifth and seventh, respectively, went to the finish line to cheer on the Jordanian competitor. Al-Zwiri clocked in at 2:08.15, far behind American winner Kelly Elmlinger at 20.61 seconds. But many spectators picked up on Al-Zwiri's effort and loudly urged her on.
"For me, I think it's more impressive the people who can't do the sports, that just go out and try their hardest," Wallace says. "When you don't know you can achieve that in the first place, I think it's far more impressive."
Read her story here.
Appearing in her first official match, Sebastiana Lopez Arellano of the U.S. scored two goals in a 36-15 semifinal win over Australia.
"I hate being the worst one out there," she says with a laugh. "I was like, 'I don't want to be the weak link here.'"
Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, addressed the crowd before the gold-medal match, and the U.S. team went on to capture the championship 28-19.
U.S. Army Sgt. Elizabeth Marks captured gold medals in each of the four swimming events at these Invictus Games -- 50-meter freestyle, 50 backstroke, 50 breaststroke and 100 freestyle.
She then made headlines by returning one of the four to Prince Harry, asking him to give it to the staff at Papworth Hospital in Cambridge, England. (Watch the video here.) She was treated for a lung ailment there in 2014 and credits the hospital nurses and doctors for saving her life.
Of course, some tabloids couldn't resist wondering if the two were sweet on each other.
The Mirror Online, for example, deftly induced readers to click on an irresistible headline: "Flirty Prince Harry can't keep away from glamorous US soldier at Invictus Games - there's just one problem." Of course, the "problem" isn't revealed until the last paragraph. Sorry Harry, she's married. Or as we say in the sports world -- not eligible for free agency.