The opening ceremony of the Beijing Paralympic Games began in the National Stadium, also known as the Bird's Nest, in north Beijing at 8:00 PM sharp on Saturday.
Against the backdrop of the Tian'anmen Rostrum, a symbol of the Chinese capital in the heart of the city, and with splendid fireworks exploding overhead, five Chinese and foreign kids unfolded large books in their hands to show the numbers of 60, 50, 40, 30 and 20, kicking off the last minute countdown to the Games opening.
The last 10 seconds of the countdown was switched back to the Bird's Nest, where fireworks were set off from the top of the stadium, to form colorful patterns of the numerals in the sky.
"Ge Jiu Ge Wei (ready), Yu Bei (set)..." At the order given in Chinese by International Paralympic Committee President Philip Craven, nearly 100,000 spectators clapped their hands at the same time, to give a unique and resounding "go" signal to the world's premier sporting event for elite athletes with disabilities.
Following a brief welcome ceremony performed by hundreds of kids in colorful costumes, the athletes' parade began amid thundering cheers from the stands and exciting music.
The parade sequence was decided by the number of strokes of the first character of the delegations' Chinese names, and Guinea, whose name begins with a two-stroke character, became the leader, followed by Turkey.
During the September 6-17 Games, a record 4,000-plus athletes from 147 countries and regions will compete in 472 events of 20 sports.
The paralympians, many in wheelchairs or on crutches, all carried broad smiles and constantly waved hands, flags and hats to the enthusiastic crowd.
Top Chinese leaders, including President Hu Jintao, and dozens of international dignitaries, including German President Horst Koehler, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and International Olympic Committee Honorary President Juan Antonio Samaranch, were seated on the VIP stand in the stadium.
As is customary, the host delegation is expected to enter last.
(Xinhua News Agency September 6, 2008)
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