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Rio Paralympics open with nods to athletes who use wheelchairs

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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.

MORE: Rio Paralympics broadcast schedule

Joey Mantia extends U.S. medal streak at speed skating worlds; Dutch dominance returns

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Joey Mantia ensured the host U.S. finished with a medal at the world single distances championships. Ireen WüstKjeld Nuis and Jorrit Bergsma ensured the Netherlands finished atop the medal standings.

Mantia joined Shani Davis as the only U.S. men to earn individual medals at three different editions of the championships, taking bronze in the 1500m on the last day of the speed skating meet at the 2002 Olympic oval outside Salt Lake City.

Mantia won the mass start at the last two worlds in 2017 and 2019 (and finished fifth on Sunday, after the 1500m bronze).

Mantia clocked a personal best 1:42.16 in the fifth of 12 pairs of the 1500m. It held up until Nuis (1:41.66) and countryman Thomas Krol (1:41.73) in the last two pairs.

“Was starting to think that I’m so old that I can’t time trial anymore,” Mantia, a 34-year-old whose last 1500m personal best came in 2015, told media in Utah. “Maybe there’s a little bit of hope left.”

Mantia’s medal extended the U.S. streak of making the podium at every world championships this millennium — 16 straight. The single bronze is the smallest medal output since 2000.

Full results are here.

Wüst and Nuis gave the Dutch a sweep of the men’s and women’s 1500m titles, two years after they did the same at the PyeongChang Olympics. Bergsma, an Olympic and world 10,000m champion, earned his first global medal of any color — gold — in the 16-lap mass start.

The Netherlands failed to earn any golds on the first two days of the four-day competition. The dominant Dutch, who topped the medal standings at every Olympics and worlds dating to the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games, entered Sunday trailing Russia.

But Wüst began the day by clocking 1:50.92 to win the 1500m by .21 over Russian Yevgenia Lalenkova. American medal hope Brittany Bowe, the 2015 World champion who took bronze last year, finished 14th a day after taking eighth in her world-record 1000m distance.

Nuis and Krol went one-two in the men’s 1500m to tie Russia’s medal total. Then Irene Schouten took bronze in the women’s mass start to put the Netherlands ahead for good, followed by Bergsma’s capper.

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MORE: Shani Davis retires, takes new role in speed skating

Netherlands on the board; more world records at speed skating worlds

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It took four world records from other countries before the Netherlands won its first title in an Olympic program event at the world single distances speed skating championships.

Jutta Leerdam got the dominant skating nation on the board on the third day of the four-day competition and in the ninth Olympic program event. Leerdam scored an upset over defending champion and world-record holder Brittany Bowe, the American who ended up eighth.

Leerdam, 21, prevailed despite having zero World Cup podiums to her name. She clocked 1:11.84, just .23 slower than Bowe’s world record set on the same Utah Olympic Oval last year. Bowe, who recently had her yearlong win streak snapped in the 1000m, finished in 1:12.92.

“It’s a nightmare,” Bowe said, according to media on site.

Later, the Netherlands won the men’s team pursuit in a world record 3:34.68, the fifth world record in Olympic events the last two days on the world’s fastest ice at the 2002 Olympic oval outside Salt Lake City.

Full results are here.

The world championships conclude Sunday, highlighted by American Joey Mantia defending his world title in the mass start.

In other Saturday events, both the men’s 1000m and women’s 5000m world records fell. On Friday, world records were lowered in the men’s 10,000m and women’s team pursuit.

Pavel Kulizhnikov followed his Friday world 500m title with the 1000m crown, repeating his double gold from 2016. Kulizhnikov was one of the Russians banned from the PyeongChang Olympics after he served a prior doping ban.

On Saturday, Kulizhnikov clocked 1:05.69 to take .49 off Dutchman Kjeld Nuis‘ record from last March, also set at Salt Lake City. Nuis, the Olympic 1000m and 1500m champion, took silver, 1.03 seconds behind.

Russian Natalya Voronina and Czech Martina Sablikova both went under Sablikova’s world record in the 5000m. Voronina came out on top in 6:39.02, 2.99 seconds faster than Sablikova’s record from a year ago and 2.16 seconds faster than Sablikova on Saturday.

Voronina’s time would have been the men’s world record as recently as 1993. Sablikova won the previous 10 world titles in the event dating to 2007.

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MORE: World Single Distances Championships broadcast schedule