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The Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games began on Friday with a thrilling opening ceremony that celebrated Russian culture and the values of the Paralympic Movement. About 40,000 people packed into the Fisht Olympic Stadium, next to the Black Sea, to witness a show of dazzling colour, music, dance and fireworks. With atheme of ‘Breaking The Ice’ the ceremony evoked the spirit of Russia and the importance of breaking down barriers and stereotypes faced by people around the world every day. (Check out the photo gallery of the opening ceremony)
A cast of 2,500 volunteers from the local Krasnodar region enjoyed the limelight on centre stage and Russian opera singer Maria Guleghina, one of the world’s most-acclaimed sopranos and also IPC Honorary Board Member, arrived on a giant model of an ice-breaker ship and performed Cossack Lullaby, based on a poem by Mikhail Lermontov. Later, pop singer Yulia Samoylova, who is a wheelchair user, sang as 300 ice fisherman painted patterns across the stage.
Moments before Russian President Vladimir Putin officially declared the Games open, International Paralympic Committee (IPC) President Sir Philip Craven told the audience: “In the same way that the city of Sochi has built a barrier-free environment, I call upon all those who experience these Games to have barrier-free minds too.
“For over the coming days you will watch high-performance sport, showcasing feats of endurance that will surprise you, tremendous skills that will excite you and examples of human endeavour that will inspire you. The sport you witness here will change you. Not just for now, but forever.”
The ceremony heralded nine days of elite-level competition during which 547 athletes from 45 countries will compete in 72 medal events across five sports – alpine skiing (which includes the Paralympic debut of snowboard), biathlon, cross country skiing, ice sledge hockey and wheelchair curling.
Brazil, Turkey and Kazakhstan are making their Paralympic Winter Games debuts at the 11th edition of the event, which is the first to be staged in Russia. Brazil will be represented by cross country skier Fernando Aranha and snowboarder André Cintra, both from São Paulo state.
Norway enter the Games as the most successful winter Paralympic nation of all time, while the USA will have the largest delegation with 80 athletes, followed by host nation Russia with 67 athletes.
The IPC expects Sochi to break all viewing records for Paralympic Winter Games with more than 55 countries broadcasting the competitions. The IPC website will also be live streaming the ceremonies and more than 300 hours of HD coverage, and will provide on-demand video on its YouTube channel.
At the end of the ceremony, two-time Paralympic champion swimmer Olesya Vladykina and six-time Paralympic champion cross-country skier Sergey Shilov lit the Paralympic cauldron and a spectacular fireworks display erupted across the Olympic Park.
At the closing ceremony on 16 March, Sochi will pass the baton to PyeongChang, the South Korean city that will host the 2018 Winter Games.