Paralympic Games open with flourish in Rio de Janeiro

Opening ceremony focuses on theme of inclusion as ticket sales for event booms

 

The Paralympic Games has opened with 4,350 athletes demonstrating first-hand their creed: “The heart knows no limits; everybody has a heart.”

Wheelchair daredevil Aaron Wheelz showed the spirit in the opening act at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro.

As a countdown from 10 reached its end, Mr Wheelz raced down a giant ramp and somersaulted in the air through a giant circle on the stadium floor, to finish the countdown and shatter more stereotypes about what athletes with disabilities can do.

The president of the International Paralympic Committee, Philip Craven, made a similar point with his speech. Mr Craven, who lost the use of his legs in a rock-climbing fall at the age of 16, reminded Brazilians they have their own problems to overcome.

“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,” he said. “They will surprise you, inspire and excite you, but most of all they will change you.”

Brazil is mired in its worst recession in generations. The country has just removed its elected president, and these Games needed a government bailout of almost US$80 million (€71 million) to make it to the starting line.

Mr Craven also used the theme of “inclusion”, topical in a country often separated by rich and poor, and black and white; a country with few provisions for wheelchairs or anyone with an impairment.

“Show the world that there is no them, there is only us,” Mr Craven told the capacity crowd. “A world where people of all abilities, races, nationalities and sexualities can come together as one. We are all part of one world.”

The symbolic cauldron was lit by Brazilian swimmer and wheelchair user Clodoaldo Silva. The six-time gold medalist faced a flight of stairs and looked perplexed about what to do next. The staircase then opened, exposing a ramp leading to the cauldron.

Mr Silva received the torch after a number of athletes carried it in the stadium. Among them was former Brazilian Paralympic medalist Marcia Malsar, who fell over backwards as she carried the torch across the floor with aid of a cane. Ms Malsar got back up with some assistance and finished.

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 had been sold a few weeks ago, but they have now sold 1.6 million. The goal is 2.4 million. This is partly a result of the reasonable prices for many tickets.

AP

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