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Let the Paralympic Games begin

March 10, 2006
CBC Sports

An estimated crowd of 25,000 joined celebrities, officials and athletes from around the world at the opening ceremony of the IX Paralympic Winter Games in Turin, Italy, on Friday.

Under the theme "overcoming all limits," the show featured dance numbers, musical performances and the parade of athletes.

An estimated 600 competitors from 40 countries, including first-time Paralympic participants Mexico and Mongolia, entered Stadio Olimpico – the same venue that hosted the Olympic opening ceremony one month ago.

Sledge hockey star Todd Nicholson of Embrun, Ont., led Canada's 34-athlete contingent into the stadium.

Nicholson was awarded the honour of Canadian flag-bearer at an emotional news conference on Wednesday where the 37-year-old hockey player proclaimed, "It's time to carry Canadian Paralympic sports to new a level."

Considered one of the best sledge hockey players in the world, Nicholson has helped Canada win two Paralympic medals and four world championships during his 15-year career.

Following the parade of nations, International Paralympic Committee president Sir Philip Craven addressed the crowd from a podium specially designed to accommodate his wheelchair. He praised the host country for holding the first-ever Paralympic Games in the summer of 1960 in Rome and asked athletes to honour the Paralympic oath by rejecting doping.

"I know I can count on you to compete hard but also fairly," said Craven, a former Paralympic wheelchair basketball champion for Great Britain.

After Craven's speech the Paralympic torch was brought into the stadium and passed through a chain of disabled athletes before being used to light the Paralympic cauldron, which will burn throughout the Games.

The large stage at the centre of the stadium, where the cauldron sits, featured five ramps to make it accessible to disabled participants.

The show ended with a spectacular fireworks and laser-light display followed by joyous dancing by several of the disabled and able-bodied performers to a mix of disco classics.

Italian rock band Ligabue, mountaineer and writer Reinhold Messner and former Formula 1 driver Alex Zanardi were among the celebrities who took part in the ceremony. Zanardi lost both his legs in a horrific accident during a race in Germany on Sept. 15, 2001.

Also on hand were International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge and Italian president Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.

The show was produced by K2006 – FilmMaster Group, the same firm that put together the opening and closing extravaganzas for the Torino Olympics.

Linked to the Olympic celebrations, the Winter Paralympics take place every four years. Canada has taken part in every Paralympics, both the Summer and Winter Games, since 1968.

The 2006 Paralympics take place in the same venues as the Winter Olympics, with competition beginning Saturday and running until March 19.


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