The Rio Paralympics kicked off last night (Sept. 7) with an opening ceremony at the Maracana Stadium.
Extreme wheelchair athlete Aaron Fotheringham from the US, also known as Wheelz, kicked off the games by performing a jaw-dropping stunt as he rolled down a 66-foot (17-meter) ramp—complete with bursting fireworks on both sides—and flipped in the air through a giant “O” shaped loop. Also part of the opening ceremony was US snowboarder Amy Purdy who performed a dance routine with a robot arm. And in a touching moment, the audience applauded Brazilian torchbearer Marcia Malsa when she fell and dropped the Paralympic flame, encouraging her to stand back up again.
The ceremony was political too. Brazil’s impeached president Dilma Rousseff did not attend, and her successor Michel Temer was booed by spectators. A Belarus athlete who carried the Russian flag—protesting the ban against Russian paralympic athletes in the aftermath of a state-sponsored doping scandal—got his accreditation at the games revoked for violating the Paralympics’ strict no-politics rule.
Two weeks ago there were worries that only 12%, or 300,000, of the tickets were sold, but the Rio Paralympics Committee has seen an uptick in sales as it approached the games, reporting an average of 40,000 seats sold per day. It expects the total number of tickets to surpass the 1.7 million sold at the Beijing Paralympics, the Associated Press reports.
Refugee athletes will also compete at the Paralympics this year, including a Syrian swimmer who lost his leg in a bombing.