Biggest Paralympics in history

2004-09-17 20:55
Athens - More than 3 800 disabled athletes gathered on Friday in Athens for the opening ceremony of the largest Paralympics in the games' 44-year history.

A sellout crowd of 60 000 filled Athens' main Olympic stadium for the three-hour show created by French duo Yves Pepin and Martin Arnaud.

It was to feature fireworks from the stadium roof, deaf performers, children in capes, light projections and a giant styrofoam tree as Greece tried to continue the party momentum from the August 13 to 29 Olympics.

The International Paralympic Committee said 3 846 athletes from 136 countries would compete in 19 sports for 11 days.

During the Sydney 2000 Paralympics, competitors from 123 nations took part. In Athens, organisers waived entry fees for all athletes and team officials.

Tree in middle of stadium

For the ceremony, organisers constructed a 26m styrofoam tree in the middle of the Olympic Stadium. Weighing 35 tons, the tree was supposed to symbolise life and refer viewers to ancient Greece.

In ancient times, the "sick used to lie down under plane trees and hope for a cure simply by touching this incarnation of strength and longevity," organisers said in a ceremony guide.

The show involved light projections on to the field of play and on to costumes, while a group called the Deaf Theatre, a troupe of sign-language interpreters was to perform during a segment of the ceremony.

Greek singers Vicky Leandros and Marios Frangoulis also were to appear. About 3 000 volunteer performers were to take part in the ceremony.

During the parade of nations, besides English and Greek, the names of the countries taking part in the games were to be announced in sign language.

Large maze beamed

The six-part show was to involve hundreds of dancers.

Symbolising the "human drama", a large maze was to be beamed on to the field with the dancers moving around as if confused.

As an image of fire was to be projected on to the tree, performers were to dance and, in an ode to the sea, dancers were to wave fans.

The roots of the tree were to appear as spreading across the entire infield and on to dancers' costumes.

One of the final displays before the arrival of the Paralympic flame was 120 performers forming the shape of the sun around the tree.

Seven Greek Paralympians were to carry the flame before the cauldron was to be ignited.

Games for athletes with disabilities were first organised in Rome in 1960. The competitions later adopted the name Paralympics.

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