Rio got the party started in spectacular style on Wednesday (7 September) with an Opening Ceremony celebrating the transformative power of the Paralympics.
The city’s iconic Maracana stadium was turned into a sea of light and colour and reverberated to Samba beats during a Ceremony that lived up to its promise to surprise, provoke and celebrate – all with a Brazilian twist.
The Rio Games – the first ever hosted in Latin America – will see athletes from 160 teams compete in 528 medal events across 22 sports in 10 days of exciting competition.
And the Brazilian people showed they are ready to get behind the Games as a passionate and noisy crowd packed into the Maracana for the official curtain-raiser.
Around 1.7million tickets have been sold for the Games – more than in Beijing in 2008.
The chairman of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Sir Philip Craven said that 194 years to the day since Prince Dom Pedro declared Brazil’s independence, the 2016 Paralympics marked “another new dawn” in the country’s “colourful and proud history.”
Delivering his opening address, he promised the 2016 Paralympics would be the “People’s Games” and predicted they would “bring a new perspective to everyone in this country by showing that the human spirit knows no limits.”
Addressing the Brazilians in the crowd directly, Sir Philip said: “Finalmente obrigado aos Cariocas e Brasileiros. In the last weeks you have shown great desire to make these the People’s Games. We will not disappoint you.”
President of the Rio 2016 organising committee Carlos Arthur Nuzman said Rio stood “ready to make history.”
“We are here in the best place on the planet with the most important mission on the face of earth … we are together for the equality of people,” he said.
Brazil’s President Michel Temer officially declared the Games open.
The Ceremony, the brainchild of creative directors Vik Muniz, Fred Gelli and Marcelo Rubens Paiva, was built around the theme of ‘The heart has no limits. Everybody has a heart’.
The trio met with athletes and even carried out multi-sensory experiments as part of the creative process in designing the show.
They said: “We were surprised by the power of the Paralympic sport of transforming disability into high performance and its impact on the formation of identities and contribution to full and thrilling lives.”
The Ceremony took the audience on a journey which celebrated the origins of Paralympic sport at Stoke Mandeville in Great Britain, as well as Brazil’s love for dance, music, sport and the beach.
It began with a countdown started by extreme wheelchair athlete Aaaron Wheelz, who travelled at high speed down a 17-metre-high ramp, the equivalent of a six-storey building, before jumping through a panel featuring the number zero.
The parade of athletes was led into the Maracana by Ibrahim Al-Hussein, the flag bearer for the International Paralympic Athletes (IPA) team.
The swimmer, who lost his leg in a bombing in Syria, had earlier told how he was struggling to comprehend the honour of leading his fellow athletes into the arena.
Completing the line-up of nations were hosts Brazil, whose team were welcomed with an ecstatic reception from the crowd.
During the parade volunteers pieced together a giant jigsaw puzzle made up of 1,160 pieces which formed a picture featuring 6,315 photos of those taking part.
US Paralympic snowboarder Amy Purdy delighted the crowd with a dance partner she had kept secret until the big night – an industrial robot called Kuka – in a segment exploring man’s coexistence with technology.
The Paralympic flag was carried into the arena by 10 children from AACD, an association that offers support for children with impairments.
And the lighting of the cauldron was greeted with a huge roar after an emotionally-charged final stage of the Paralympic flame’s journey around Brazil.
The crowd had gasped when Marcia Malsar, a member of the Brazilian delegation that boosted Paralympic sport with her performance at the 1984 Games, fell in the rain-soaked stadium.
But she quickly rose to her feet – to a standing ovation from the crowd – before handing on the flame to Brazilian Paralympic record-holder Clodoaldo Silva, who lit the cauldron.
Sir Philip said: “Over the next 12 days, through the performances of Paralympians, you will see the true meaning of sport and the true definition of ability.
“You will witness how Paralympic sport has the ability to inspire an individual, and the outstanding capacity to transform communities, countries and continents.
“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.”
Competition gets underway on Thursday (8 September) with action across a range of sports including athletics, cycling, judo, powerlifting and wheelchair basketball.