The Rio Paralympics got under way with a stunning opening ceremony on Wednesday at the Maracana Stadium. By Dev Trehan
The iconic stadium was packed with supporters and 4,350 athletes from 160 nations, staged on Brazil’s Independence Day, just two-and-a-half weeks after the Olympics.
The central theme of the opening ceremony was “Everybody has a heart” with the president of the International Paralympic Committee Philip Craven making a rousing speech, highlighting the inspiration behind the event.
Craven, who lost the use of his legs in a rock-climbing fall aged 16, said: “In a country which has faced major challenges of late, Paralympians will switch your focus from perceived limitations to a world full of possibility and endless opportunity.
“They will surprise you, inspire and excite you, but most of all they will change you.”
Lee Pearson carried the flag for the GB team after the 10-time equestrian gold medallist was chosen by his 263 fellow athletes, who are aiming to surpass their London 2012 total by winning 121 medals over 11 days of competition.
The symbolic cauldron was lit by Brazilian swimmer Clodoaldo Silva in wet conditions and carried with the help of several athletes, including Brazilian medallist Marcia Malsar.
The show featured a tribute to the wheel, to Brazil’s swirling samba rhythms, and to the beach a ritual gathering spot in Rio. And there was the cast applauding an imaginary sunset, another ritual in this beach town.
The show also saluted Brazilian swimmer Daniel Dias, the country’s most decorated Paralympian with 10 gold medals and surely more to come in Rio.
Organisers say tickets sales have been booming. Only 200,000 were sold a few weeks ago, but they’ve now sold 1.6 million. The goal is 2.4 million.
A notable absentee was International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach, who revealed he had to attend a state mourning ceremony in Germany for Walter Scheel, the former West Germany president.
Also missing were 267 Russian athletes who were banned because of alleged state-sponsored doping. Officials say 159 nations were entered on Wednesday, and in addition a refugee team.
Craven added: “Show the world that there is no them, there is only us. A world where people of all abilities, races, nationalities and sexualities can come together as one. We are all part of one world.”