Belfast Telegraph

Maracana welcomes Paralympic stars whose Rio party will wow the world

Centre stage: The Great Britain team are led out by flag bearer Lee Pearson during last night’s opening ceremony
Centre stage: The Great Britain team are led out by flag bearer Lee Pearson during last night’s opening ceremony

By Matt McGeehan

The After Party has begun. The XV Paralympic Games in Rio opened at the Maracana Stadium with a carnival atmosphere last night.

Seventeen days after the Olympics closed, with the Paralympics embroiled in the worst build-up in its 56-year history, Brazil belatedly got into the Paralympic mood.

London 2012 was declared a triumph of the human spirit; Paralympic competitors considered sports stars first and foremost.

It was hoped to be a watershed moment for the Paralympic movement. But the incompetence of Rio's organising committee - using Paralympic funds as contingency for the Olympics - left the Games feeling like an afterthought.

Despite the slow uptake of tickets, 1459 days since the London Paralympics closed on September 9, 2012, the 78,000-seat Maracana was full on Brazil's Independence Day.

Paralympians describe the Olympics as the warm-up; their own inspiring festival as the After Party.

And Rio, Brazil and the world must prepare to be amazed over the next 11 days.

More than 4300 athletes from 159 nations, plus two refugees in an independent team, are prepared to perform to the peak of their physical capabilities and change perceptions of what is possible.

It is the biggest Paralympics yet - in terms of athletes participating - and the greatest performances are expected to take place in Rio.

Remember the names. Brazilians will cheer swimmer Daniel Dias, athletes Alan Oliveira and Terezinha Guilhermina.

American Tatyana McFadden will go for seven gold medals and others will emerge.

In Britain alone there is wheelchair racer David Weir, swimmers Ellie Simmonds and Ollie Hynd and cyclist Dame Sarah Storey, who will bid to surpass Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson as the British female with the most Paralympic gold medals on Thursday's opening day.

Lee Pearson led ParalympicsGB into the arena as part of a show with a central theme of "Everybody has a heart".

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.

Second place on the medal table - behind China - is also the target. Russia's absence helps.

With its stance in the wake of revelations of state-sponsored doping in Russia, the International Paralympic Committee and its president Sir Philip Craven showed the leadership and stance the International Olympic Committee did not. Principled. Honest. And spirited.

Belfast Telegraph


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