The spectacular opening ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Paralympics was performed today in Sochi. It was titled “Breaking the Ice,” an apt name that evokes a breakdown of barriers. President Vladimir Putin officially opened the Paralympics with a speech during the opening ceremony. The performance featured 2,500 acrobats, singers, and dancers, and the athletes marched in the Parade of Nations to proudly represent their nation. The ceremony will be shown by CBCSports and CBC TV at 11 a.m. ET. It will also be available on the TeamUSA website as well as the Paralympic’s YouTube channel.
For those who will be watching the Paralympics on television, NBC and NBCSN will present 52 hours of live coverage. Half of them will be live, and the action will be spread across 11 days. This is an unprecedented amount of coverage which was made possible through corporate sponsorship. All of the events will be streamed on the TeamUSA website, which also offers many interviews of participating athletes. There will be 72 medal events. From 45 countries, nearly 700 athletes with a visual impairment or physical disability will compete in six sports. One new event has been included in the Paralympic program, Para-Snowboarding. The fast-paced and extremely exciting sport is expected to be highly popular with viewers.
The U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun said that the commitment of NBC Olympics to air the Paralympic Winter Games of Sochi 2014 represents an important turning point for the U.S. Paralympic Movement. Blackmun noted that Americans’ interest in the inspiring stories of Paralympians was always there, but showing the games on television will enable Americans to experience the excitement of sport. The Paralympic Games, Blackmun said, “are not about disability.” They are rather world class sporting events in which athletes compete to be the best in the world. The president of the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee, Dmitry Chernyshenko, said that the inclusion of Para-Snowboarding, a “young and exciting sport,” emphasizes the opportunity for all that sport can provide. Chernyshenko also said that the Paralympics represent the power sport has to both inspire and unite the world.
Chernyshenko seems to speak of power and opportunities that are larger than the activity itself, and the 31 Ukrainians participating in the Paralympics are one example of this idea. The Ukrainian athletes staged a symbolic protest by boycotting, except for one lone competitor, the opening ceremony. However, despite or because of the turmoil in their home country, they have made the decision to remain in Sochi and compete. Ukrainian Paralympic Committee Head Valery Sushkevich spoke to a packed conference hall, stating that the team wants to stay and compete in order to remind people that Ukraine is “a sovereign country that has sent a team here.” He also said that he prayed that the Paralympics will “help peace in Europe, the world, and my home Ukraine.” International Paralympic Committee president Sir Philip Craven would seem to agree, calling upon everyone who experiences the games “to have barrier-free minds.” Craven exclaimed that the Paralympics, by the skills of athletes, the excitement of the competitions, and inspiring examples of human endeavor change participants and spectators alike, “not just for now, but forever.”
By Donna Westlund