Road To The Olympic Games

Paralympics opening shows what can be achieved

As Canada's 143 athletes and their 120 coaches and supporters watched from the floor of the "Bird's Nest," an act of strength and courage gave perfect symbolism to what they and the other 4,000 competitors from around the world will be achieving over the next 11 days in Beijing.

Chinese wheelchair athlete pulls himself to stadium roof to light torch

As Canada's 143 athletes and 120 coaches and supporters watched from the floor of the "Bird's Nest," an act of strength and courage gave perfect symbolism to what they and the other 4,000 competitors from around the world will be achieving over the next 11 days in Beijing.

Chinese gold medallist Hou Bin pulled himself by only his arms up to the roof of the National Stadium, torch in the holder of his wheelchair, to light the cauldron and open the Paralympic Games on Saturday night.

More than 91,000 fans jammed into the facility just two weeks after the Summer Olympic Games ended to watch more than 6,000 performers who wore 4,934 suits of costumes in 13 styles and presented 269 props of differing sizes, all heralding the coming demonstrations of courage and tenacity by the athletes.

"You will realize the differences you might have thought existed in the world are far less apparent," said Sir Philip Craven, president of the International Paralympic committee, to the crowd. "You will see we are all people of one world."

Lui Qi, president of the Paralympics organizing committee, said the event "educates people to the power of love and encourages people to devote more understanding, respect and support to people with a disability," he said. "The humanitarian spirit is raised to new heights, and the cause for people with a disability is promoted far and wide."

Chinese president Hu Jintao officially declared the Games open.

Canada's delegation was led into the Bird's Nest (so-called because of its lattice work frame), by blind swimmer Donovan Tildesley, a Vancouver resident who is in his third and final Paralympics.

The team he brought with him, dressed in red and white, is hoping to finish fifth overall.

Among the other ceremony highlights:

  • A breathtaking dance performed by 320 hearing-impaired dancers whose white dresses pillowed out and formed a cloud-like effect on the floor.
  • Blind singer Yang Haitao's performance of a song told of the sun's warmth on his face and how "the people I want to see are my mom, my dad, and you."
  • A forest of pink peach trees surrounded blind pianist Jin Yuanhui, whose white tuxedo glimmered as he played his own compositions to the crowd.
  • Fireworks and 2,503 special lights that took over five months to install.

Crowning the moment was the entry of the Paralympic flame, brought into the stadium by wheelchair fencer Jin Jing, who passed it off to several other athletes including Ping Yai, who was escorted by her guide dog. Ultimately, the flame reached Hou Bin, for his climb to the top.

Events get underway on Sunday with a number of Canadian athletes among the favourites in their events.

Included are wheelchair racers Chantal Petitclerc, Jeff Adams and André Beaudoin, two-sport competitor Tracey Ferguson (wheelchair racing and basketball), the men's and women's basketball teams and an excellent swimming contingent that features Tildesley, Kirby Côté, Stephani Dixon and Benoit Huot.