CHRISTIAN RADNEDGE in RIO DE JANEIRO —- The Rio 2016 Paralympics were officially opened on a wet Wednesday in Maracana with a stunning ceremony punctured by moments of booing and a stray Russian flag carried by a Belarusian athlete.
The ceremony itself was of a similar style to the Olympic ceremonies, making use of the digital floor and including various samba-influenced musical segments. It was a triumph for insistence and belief over depression after the dire warnings of financial collapse only weeks ago.
Hence the stands were virtually full after organisers confirmed earlier this week that the ceremony was officially sold out.
The head of Rio 2016 Carlos Nuzman addressed the packed crowd saying: “Rio is ready. Here we stand for history that will be made by the athletes, volunteers and by you right here, right now.”
However, his speech was interrupted by a prolonged period of booing when he came to thank the government for its support.
The jeers went on to drown out new Brazil President Michel Temer when he declared the Games officially open.
A notable absentee was Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, who is not expected to return to Brazil – where prosecutors wish to interview him over the Patrick Hickey tickets issue – for any of the Paralympics events.
In the parade of the nations, one Belarusian athlete was seen to be carrying a Russian flag.
The International Paralympic Committee last month banned Russian athletes from competing at the Games and is understood to be looking into Wednesday evening’s incident.
But there were genuine emotional moments in the ceremony which IPC president Philip Craven said could “change” the nation of Brazil.
In his address he 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.”
An iconic moment came just before the Paralympic cauldron was lit. With the rain coming down inside the stadium, 1984 gold medal winning Paralympic runner Marcia Malsar was carrying the Paralympic torch, along with her walking stick, to Adria Santos.
Malsar fell down halfway but regained her feet and, to huge cheers and a standing ovation from the stadium, continued to carry the flame to Santos – a scene absolutely defining of the Paralympic spirit.
The cauldron was eventually lit by Brazil’s most successful Paralympian, Clodoaldo Silva, who won 12 medals, six of them gold, from 2000 to 2008.