SALT LAKE CITY, March 8 -- Cold, chilling winds and heavy rain during the opening ceremony failed to dampen spirits as the eighth Paralympic Games began Friday at Rice Eaccles Stadium.
More than 50,000 people enthusiastically reveled in the opening ceremonies Thursday night. In declaring the Paralympic Games opened, President George Bush established the dominate theme when he told the audience by satellite, "Every athlete at these games will demonstrate that we are limited only by the size of our own dreams and that desire and courage can overcome any obstacle life may bring you."
The games run from through March 16. Unlike the Winter Olympic Games, these games have only ice sledge hockey, down hill Alpine skiing and short, medium and long distance cross country skiing. The athletes either use wheelchairs or have one arm or leg missing.
"Our unconquerable spirit makes us invincible at this moment," said Chris Waddell, nine-time Paralympian medal winner. Along with Paralympian athlete Muffy Davis, Waldell lighted the Olympic Caldron Thursday night.
Aspiring Paralympian Marisa Velez, 14, Salt Lake City, said, "It's personally inspiring to me to see athletes with disabilities in personal competition." She has Cerebral Palsy, uses a wheelchair and dreams of skiing in the winter games.
Curtis Palmer, a Salt Lake City bus driver, said he was thrilled at being near the gifted athletes with disabilities. However, Palmer said he wants the Paralympian winter games and the Winter Olympics combined and believes separating the two events stigmatizes athletes with disabilities as being unequal to able-bodied athletes.
The athletes from 36 countries, passing in wheelchairs, using crutches or being led by seeing-eye dogs was for some the highlight of the opening ceremony's events.
"This is what it's all about," Alison Ostler, said as she clamped and whistled.
Foreigners also were excited about being there. "This is the greatest and wildest party I have ever been to," said Yoko Yakamkia, a teacher from Nagasaki, Japan. It was her first visit to America and she said she loved the atmosphere flowing through the stadium and seeing singer Stevie Wonder perform.
For the athletes, the games are the opportunity of a lifetime. Herve Lord of Sweden, 1998 silver medallist ice sledge hockey, said, "Only a gold medal can surpass my feeling now."
The opening ceremony contained one glitch, however, as the International Paralympic Committee and the Salt Lake City Organizing Committee did not caption the announcer's comments on TV screens for the deaf and hearing-impaired attendees. There also was criticism that figure skaters with disabilities were not allowed to participate.
Hearing-impaired Lori Fischer, New York, stated, "The IPC should have demanded captioning."
Inquiries to the IPC and SLOC on why captioning was not provided went unanswered.
Nancy Volmer, a spokeswoman for the SLOC, said, "The IPC and Paralympians decided to have a mix of talent at the opening ceremonies and so none of the figure skaters had a disability." Content: 07001000 07009000 13003000 13010000 14004000 15073002