Let the games begin

September 6, 2008 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, September 6- The national Paralympics team was among 4,000 athletes that took part in a colourful opening ceremony of the 13th Paralympics Summer Games in Beijing on Saturday.

Among the athletes who will represent Kenya in the Beijing games are Henry Wanyoike who won the gold medals in the 10,000 and 5,000 meters races in the 2004 Athens Paralympics Games, Emmanuel Asinikal and Francis Thuo who both clinched bronze in 5,000 meters and Joseph Lamong.

China once again dazzled the world with a glittering ceremony as the Paralympics opened Saturday in the iconic "Bird\’s Nest" National Stadium with the message that all life has value and dignity.

Just weeks after billions around the globe enjoyed the breathtaking opening to the Olympics, Beijing showed once again it had raised the bar for such events.

In a nation in which the handicapped have long suffered discrimination, the themes of the performance were "One World, One Dream" and "Transcendence, Integration, Equality."

The ceremony started at 8:00pm (1200 GMT) after a dramatic countdown. Fireworks rocked the stadium and lit up the night sky as the flag-waving crowd screamed and shouted in anticipation.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, among the dignitaries after holding talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao, looked on as the athletes entered the futuristic stadium to roars of approval.

The 91,000-capacity crowd gave rousing welcomes to Iraq and Taiwan but went berserk when China\’s massive team entered the stadium, shouting "China Go!" Tens of thousands of flashlights formed a stunning backdrop to the three-hour show, during which 300 deaf girls performed a sign language dance dressed in white.

Twelve-year-old ballet student Li Yue, who lost her left leg in the devastating Sichuan earthquake earlier this year, captivated the crowd, dancing from her wheelchair.

Chinese President Hu Jintao then officially declared the 13th Paralympic Games open before the crowd watched spellbound as gold medallist Hou Bin, in a wheelchair, pulled himself up on a rope to the roof of the stadium to light the flame in the show\’s denouement.

More than 4,000 competitors from nearly 150 countries and regions will battle for 472 gold medals in 20 sports at the eye-catching venues used for last month\’s Olympics such as the "Bird\’s Nest" and the Water Cube.

"There are more countries than ever, more sports than ever and more athletes than ever. This is great news for the Paralympic movement," International Paralympic Committee President Philip Craven said earlier Saturday.

Host China, which topped the medals table at the 2004 Athens Paralympics with 63 golds ahead of Britain and Canada, is widely expected to dominate again — and even more comprehensively than at last month\’s Olympics.

Aside from China\’s seemingly inevitable domination of the Games, much attention will focus on South Africa\’s double amputee track sensation Oscar Pistorius — dubbed "Blade Runner" due to the specially adapted carbon fibre blades with which he has won a host of titles.

Carrying the flag at the opening ceremony for South Africa was Natalie du Toit, who finished 16th in the women\’s 10 kilometres marathon swim in last month\’s Olympics.

The 20 sports at the Paralympics, which ends on September 17, include athletics, swimming, powerlifting, wheelchair fencing and two versions of football — five-a-side and seven-a-side — as well as the lesser-known goalball and boccia.

China\’s motto for the Paralympics, comparing it with the Olympics, is: "Two Games with Equal Splendour."
Although China will pull out all the stops to produce a stunning event, the Paralympics takes place in a country in which the disabled have long suffered discrimination in social, education and employment sectors.

Authorities have made Beijing more friendly for disabled people by, for example, setting up the country\’s first fleet of easy-access taxis and making famous tourist spots such as the Great Wall accessible to wheelchairs.

And huge efforts have been made to show that China is treating the Paralympics with as much importance as the Olympics, including keeping draconian anti-pollution measures in place.


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