Not Just a Show: Iconic Moments in the Paralympic Games Opening and Closing Ceremonies
Recorded in the annals of Paralympic Games history are more than just individual/team records and wins/losses. There have been so many moments, in the Opening Ceremony—the resplendent introduction to the Games—and in the Closing Ceremony, which serves as its finale, that captured the hearts of all those watching. Here, we would like to discuss some of the moments from the past Paralympic Games that left the deepest impression on us.
(1) Opening Ceremony, Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games
Climbing Rope on a Wheelchair (!) to Light the Paralympic Torch
Hou Bin climbing up a rope with all his might, to get to the Paralympic torch photo by Getty Images Sport
One particular performance was so incredible that it was clear to everyone watching in the stadium, and even just watching on TV, that it would be one to remember.
It was the Opening Ceremony for the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games, and the final runner for the torch relay had just appeared in the stadium—Hou Bin of athletics, from China. Bin was a decorated Paralympian, having won gold medals in the High Jump event at three Paralympic Games, starting with Atlanta 1996. Bin received the Paralympic flame, then fixed the torch onto his wheelchair. Then, in a move that astounded everyone, he began climbing the rope in front of him—still in his wheelchair, using only his arm strength—and lit the Paralympic torch, located 60m off the ground. With the wheelchair alone weighing approximately 15kg, and the torch adding another 1kg, the performance seemed to push the limits of the physical body—making it a particularly striking embodiment of the Paralympic Games.
Hou Bin’s superhuman performance had the stadium roaring photo by Getty Images Sport
What makes this performance even more amazing was the fact that Bin had actually broken one of his fingers in the rehearsal for the ceremony a few days earlier. Truly a superhuman feat.
Bin climbed 39m over the span of three and a half minutes to light the Paralympic torch photo by Getty Images Sport
(2) Closing Ceremony, Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games
Transforming “Impossible” Into “I’m Possible”
The theme of the Closing Ceremony for the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games was “Reaching the Impossible,” with a variety of performances expressing the idea of transformation, from the belief that something is “Impossible,” into “I’m Possible.”
There was one moment in the ceremony that expressed this message in a truly striking way.
A rope is lowered to Aleksey Chuvashev, an athlete missing both legs photo by X-1
At the climax of the program, the word “IMPOSSIBLE” was depicted on center stage, in Tetris-block style through colorful lit-up letters. A single length of rope was lowered down to Aleksey Chuvashev of Russia, a medalist in the Rowing event at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. The realization swept through the stadium—Chuvashev would have to climb all the way up this rope!
And climb he did, with all of his strength, until finally he got to the word, “IMPOSSIBLE.” He jumped between the letters “I” and “M,” physically embodying the apostrophe, to turn “IMPOSSIBLE” into “I’M POSSIBLE.”
The word “IMPOSSIBLE,” which appeared in the stadium photo by X-1
“IMPOSSIBLE” is transformed into “I’M POSSIBLE,” and fireworks lit up the stadium photo by X-1
Beautiful fireworks lit up the night sky, finishing off the ceremony in a beautiful expression of the Paralympic Games, and bringing the crowd to a state of roaring excitement.
(3) Opening Ceremony, Rio 2016 Paralympic Games
A Trip and a Fall, and a Deafening Roar of Cheers
Marcia Malsar walking slowly forward with a cane amidst pouring rain photo by X-1
Amidst the rain, the crowd was watching with bated breath as Marcia Malsar, who won Brazil’s very first gold medal in 1984, stood in Maracana Stadium, the venue for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games—a torch runner, waiting for the Paralympic flame. Finally, she was handed the torch. Malsar, who had cerebral palsy, used a cane to move forward, carefully carrying the flame. Partway through, however, she lost her balance, falling onto the ground and losing her hold on the torch.
The crowd let out a sharp, collective gasp when Malsar dropped the torch photo by X-1
For a moment, the air in the stadium became taut with tension. The 78,000 spectators, however, cheered her along in a deafening roar. And Malsar, who at this point had already gotten back up, picked up the torch, and completed her leg of the torch relay. In official tweets by the International Paralympic Committee and official videos from the relay, this moment was referenced with the message, “Never give up!”
Looking back on the accident, Malsar said, “When I tripped and dropped the torch, I felt a wave of sadness wash over me, and I couldn’t even hear the crowd clapping for me.” But, she went on, with pride, “These things happen in life. I believe that incident was the will of God.”
――――Looking back on Paralympic Games in the past, it’s clear that the Opening and Closing Ceremonies are not just performances meant to “spice up” the Games, but expressions of the four Paralympic values (determination, equality, inspiration, and courage). Feats of athleticism, victories and losses—these are of course very exciting and meaningful to watch. But the moments outside of the actual sports are just as interesting, and a great way to experience the Paralympic Games as well.
text by TEAM A
key visual by X-1