RIO DE JANEIRO: Rio de Janeiro opened the Paralympic Games on Wednesday with samba, parading wheelchairs, giant balloons — and loud booing of Brazil’s president — at a sold-out Maracana stadium.
The extraordinary sight of US Paralympian Aaron “Wheelz” Fotheringham jumping in his wheelchair from a 55-foot (17-meter) ramp got the crowd on its feet. Then the joyous rhythms of samba singers and a carnivalesque reproduction of a Rio beach scene got them dancing.
A sultry dance between an industrial robot and Amy Purdy, a US Paralympian and model wearing running blades, provided another eye-catching moment.
Brazil’s tensions also flared with thousands in the crowd chanting “Out with Temer!” as newly sworn-in President Michel Temer appeared at the ceremony just days after taking over from his bitter rival, the impeached Dilma Rousseff.
Temer’s hurried declaration of “I declare the Games open” was met with a roar of boos, and booing also forced Brazilian Olympics boss Carlos Nuzman to pause his speech after mentioning “thanks to the federal, state and municipal governments.”
Coming right after a vibrant but sometimes tricky Olympics, the Paralympics present one more challenge for Rio in a period of deep recession and political instability.
But “Brazilians never give up,” Nuzman said, telling the athletes: “You are superhumans.”
Blind, missing limbs, or partially paralyzed, more than 4,300 of the world’s toughest and most competitive disabled paraded ahead of 11 days of contests. Some pushed their own wheelchairs, others were pushed, while others limped.
Even a sudden downpour accompanied by thunder could not dampen the cheers greeting the severely disabled torch bearers who closed the show by carrying the Olympic flame to light the cauldron.
Olympics chief no show
However, controversy hung over the no-show by International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach — the first absence of an IOC chief since the 1984 Summer Games.
Bach is due at a mourning ceremony in Berlin for the late West German president Walter Scheel.
However, there have been suggestions that the no-show had more to do with divisions over the Paralympic committee’s outright ban on Russian athletes after allegations of a state-sanctioned doping program and the IOC’s softer line, which allowed some Russians to compete.
Globo and other Brazilian media outlets also printed reports that Bach is wanted for questioning by local police investigating an illegal ticket-selling ring allegedly involving a senior Irish Olympic official.
Rio police were to give a news conference on the matter Thursday.
“Whether there’s anything else — I don’t know if there’s anything else,” International Paralympic Committee President Philip Craven said of Bach’s decision.
Russian para-athletes, who finished second behind China in the London 2012 medals table, were barred last month following a World Anti-Doping Agency report that alleged a vast state-sponsored doping program.
Separately, UK Athletics will review classifications after the Games, according to BBC News, following concerns that athletes were being mismatched to create an unfair advantage.