The Paralympic Games opened in Beijing Saturday with a burst of fireworks and spectacular performances as China embraced another chance to welcome the entire world.
Thousands of cheerleaders and dancers in puffy, rainbow-colored suits performed a dance routine in the center of the field at the National Stadium before athletes were introduced. The crowd cheered and waved flags as China's leaders and foreign dignitaries looked on.
Opening just two weeks after the Beijing Olympics ended, the Paralympics is designed to be a parallel games for athletes with a wide range of physical disabilities. The 10-day competition begins today.
Some 4,000-plus athletes will use many of the same Olympic venues, with 147 countries and regions represented and 472 medal events contested - 170 more than the Olympics.
The scale of the event underscores what China has done for the country's 83 million disabled citizens.
Much of the $100 million budget for the Paralympics has been used to improve facilities for the disabled in competition venues, airports, the public traffic system, hotels, hospitals and tourist attractions like the Great Wall and the Forbidden City.
Last night, the crowd roared its approval in the Bird's Nest stadium at the lavish performance put on to welcome the Games, overseen by renowned Chinese film director Zhang Yimou, which featured the incorporation of sign language into dance.
Particularly well received was a ballet performance by a young girl who lost a leg in May's massive Sichuan earthquake (See Page 16), and an athlete who hoisted himself up a rope -- along with his wheelchair -- to light the Paralympic flame (Cover).
"The Chinese people uphold the spirit of self-reliance and perseverance, and they are proud of their virtue of supporting and helping people with a disability," BOCOG chief Liu Qi said in a speech.
International Paralympic Committee (IPC) President Philip Craven said in his speech: "These Games will have more athletes, more competing nations, and more sporting events than ever before," and described them as "milestones in Paralympic history" to improving the lives of China's 83 million disabled citizens.
Chinese President Hu Jintao told an official lunch earlier in the day that the government was dedicated to improving the lives of the country's disabled citizens.
"We stand for equality, oppose discrimination, care for the vulnerable and respect human rights," Hu said.