The Rio Paralympic Opening Ceremony started and ended with nods to athletes who use wheelchairs at the Maracanã on Wednesday night.
Clodoaldo Silva, a 13-time Brazilian Paralympic medalist swimmer believed to be competing in his final Games, lit the cauldron to ignite the competition that will run through Sept. 18.
Silva, who uses a wheelchair, received the flame as rain fell, faced a flight of stairs and turned to the large crowd as if to say, “What do I do now?”
Then a staircase opened revealing ramps for Silva to use to reach the cauldron.
Earlier in the torch relay in the stadium, four-time 1980s Paralympic track medalist Marcia Malsar fell while carrying the Olympic flame with the aide of a cane but got up and finished her relay leg with assistance.
The core concept of the four-hour ceremony was, “The heart knows no limits. Everybody has a heart.”
The Parade of Nations included 164 delegations representing some 4,350 athletes, except of course for Russia, which is banned for its poor anti-doping record. However, a man at the tail of the Belarus delegation draped himself in a Russian flag.
Every delegation was accompanied by a placard bearer holding a large puzzle piece with the delegation name printed on it. The puzzle formed on the Maracanã floor became an image of a heart that started beating with a projection and pyrotechnics.
The U.S. team, which includes 289 athletes overall, was led into the stadium by flag bearer Allison Jones, who has won a medal of every color in the Summer and Winter Paralympics as a cyclist and Alpine skier.
On Independence Day in Brazil, the ceremony began with a focus on the wheelchair. More than 1,800 of the athletes at these Games are wheelchair users.
“We wish to stimulate everyone to change their point of view and look at the world as if they were on wheelchairs,” organizers said in the Opening Ceremony media guide.
The show started with a video showing International Paralympic Committee president Philip Craven, a five-time British Paralympic wheelchair basketball player, making his transatlantic journey to Rio.
The transition to the stadium’s sights and sounds began with Las Vegas native Aaron Wheelz, an extreme wheelchair athlete, speeding down a ramp and through a giant “0” to signify the end of the countdown to the start of the Opening Ceremony. The move was reminiscent of the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Opening Ceremony.
The segment gave way to the most decorated Brazilian Paralympian ever, swimmer Daniel Dias. Dias, a 15-time medalist and 10-time gold medalist who is still competing, “swam” across the Maracanã stage to begin a “beach day” segment.
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