‘No lim­its’ the theme as games open

Ath­letes an ex­am­ple of strug­gle for trou­bled Brazil, ca­pac­ity au­di­ence told

Baltimore Sun - - RIO PARALYMPICS - By Emily Gi­ambalvo

RIO DE JANEIRO — The Par­a­lympic Games opened Wed­nes­day with 4,350 ath­letes demon­strat­ing first­hand their creed: “The heart knows no lim­its; ev­ery­body has a heart.”

Wheel­chair dare­devil Aaron Wheelz showed the spirit in the open­ing act.

As a count­down from 10 reached its end, Wheelz raced down a gi­ant ramp and som­er­saulted in the air through a gi­ant 0 on the sta­dium floor. That fin­ished the count­down and shat­tered more stereo­types about what ath­letes with dis­abil­i­ties can do.

The pres­i­dent of the In­ter­na­tional Par­a­lympic Com­mit­tee, Philip Craven, made a sim­i­lar point with his speech. Craven, who lost the use of his legs in a rock-climb­ing fall at the age of 16, re­minded Brazil­ians they have their own prob­lems to over­come.

Craven sug­gested Brazil­ians fol­low the lead of Par­a­lympians.

“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,” Craven said. “They will sur­prise you, in­spire and ex­cite you, but most of all they will change you.”

Brazil is mired in its worst re­ces­sion in gen­er­a­tions. The coun­try just re­moved its elected pres­i­dent, and these games needed a gov­ern­ment bailout of al­most $80 mil­lion to make it to the start­ing line. Al­li­son Jones leads the U.S. team into Mara­cana Sta­dium for Wed­nes­day night’s open­ing of the Par­a­lympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Craven also used the theme of “in­clu­sion,” top­i­cal in a coun­try of­ten sep­a­rated into the rich and poor, and black and white; a coun­try with few pro­vi­sions for wheel­chairs or any­one with an im­pair­ment.

“Show the world that there is no them, there is only us,” Craven told the ca­pac­ity crowd at the opener.

The sym­bolic cal­dron was lit by Brazil­ian swim­mer and wheel­chair user Clodoaldo Silva as rain fell. The six-time gold medal­ist faced a flight of stairs and looked per­plexed about what to do next. The stair­case then opened, ex­pos­ing a ramp lead­ing to the cal­dron. Prob­lem solved.

Silva re­ceived the torch after a num­ber of ath­letes car­ried it in the sta­dium. Among them was for­mer Brazil­ian Par­a­lympic medal­ist Mar­cia Mal­sar, who wob­bled and fell over back­ward as she car­ried the torch with the aid of a cane. Mal­sar got back up, with some as­sis­tance, and fin­ished her roughly 30-me­ter sec­tion of the re­lay in an ef­fort warmly ac­knowl­edged by the crowd.

The show fea­tured a trib­ute to the wheel, to Brazil’s swirling samba rhythms, and to the beach — a rit­ual gath­er­ing spot in Rio. And there was the cast ap­plaud­ing an imag­i­nary sun­set, an­other rit­ual in this beach town.

The show also saluted Brazil­ian swim­mer Daniel Dias, the coun­try’s most dec­o­rated Par­a­lympian with 10 gold medals — and surely more to come in Rio.

Or­ga­niz­ers say ticket sales have been boom­ing. Only 200,000 were sold a few weeks ago, but they’ve now sold 1.6 mil­lion. The goal is 2.4 mil­lion. This is partly a re­sult of the rea­son­able prices for many tick­ets, only 10 Brazil­ian re­als ($3).

A no­table ab­sen­tee was In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee pres­i­dent Thomas Bach.

The IOC chief said he had to miss the cer­e­mony to at­tend a state mourn­ing cer­e­mony in Ger­many for Wal­ter Scheel, the for­mer West Ger­man pres­i­dent.

Craven told re­porters it’s the first time since Salt Lake City in 2002 that an IOC pres­i­dent had missed a Par­a­lympic open­ing.

Pa­trick Hickey, a high-rank­ing IOC mem­ber from Ire­land, was among10 peo­ple charged by Brazil­ian pros­e­cu­tors on Tues­day with ticket scalp­ing, con­spir­acy and am­bush mar­ket­ing re­lated to last month’s Olympics.

Po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tors said they wanted to speak with Bach about email ex­changes he had with Hickey re­lated to ticket al­lo­ca­tions for Ire­land. Po­lice had planned to “sum­mon” Bach if he came for the open­ing cer­e­mony, though there is no ev­i­dence he knew about the ticket scam.

Also miss­ing were 267 Rus­sian ath­letes who were banned be­cause of al­leged state-spon­sored dop­ing. Of­fi­cials say 159 na­tions were en­tered Wed­nes­day, and in ad­di­tion a refugee team.

BUDA MEN­DES/GETTY IM­AGES

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