The afterparty has begun. The XV Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro opened with a feat to defy expectations in a carnival atmosphere at the Maracana Stadium.
International Paralympic Committee president Philip Craven journeyed from the Paralympic movement’s birthplace of Stoke Mandeville in Buckinghamshire in an introductory video.
And there was an audible gasp in the 78,000-seat stadium as someone in a wheelchair propelled themselves down a six-storey high ramp and through a hoop.
It was not Mr Craven, a former Paralympic swimmer and wheelchair basketball player who had done his best James Bond impersonation, but extreme wheelchair athlete Aaron ‘Wheelz’ Fotheringham.
That was the first of many feats which will astound at the Games, which have belatedly captured the imagination, 17 days after the Olympics closed — despite the Paralympics being embroiled in the worst build-up in its 56-year history.
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, 1,459 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 afterparty.
The party began in the pool and moved to the beach. Brazil’s 10-time Paralympic champion Daniel Dias swimming in a virtual pool before a colourful samba on virtual sands.
The 400 dancers formed a Brazilian flag to loud cheers.
More than 4,300 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 Dias, and athletes Alan Oliveira and Terezinha Guilhermina.
American Tatyana McFadden will go for seven gold medals and others will emerge.
Ireland was led by Cork sailor John Twomey, who is competing at his 11th Paralympics.
As the parade of nations took place, a 1,160-piece jigsaw made up of 6,315 photos of the athletes formed, depicting a heart.
Hosts Brazil were met by a huge cheer as they entered the arena and completed the puzzle and the heart began to beat.
The spectacular pulsating heart symbolised the life, passion, and spirit of the Paralympics.
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