Paralympics 2008: Let the Games Begin!
Beijing is once more the center of the international sporting world as the 13th Paralympic Games begin with a dazzling opening ceremony.
These men and women redefine hardcore, and it's a shame that the Paralympics don't enjoy more mainstream coverage.
More than four thousand athletes from 148 countries paraded around the stadium in a celebration of 'transcendence, integration and equality' before competition for the first of 472 gold medals across 20 sports begins tomorrow.
China, where six percent of the 1.3 billion population - 83 million - are disabled, have embraced these Games with over one million tickets sold and the stadium was full to its 91,000-capacity for the curtain-raiser.
At the heart of the extravaganza - centred on themes of space, time and life - was Li Yue, a 12-year-old ballerina who lost her left leg in the Sichuan earthquake in May.
After a solitary sun bird flew suspended in a starlit sky - created by torchlight from the audience - and three hundred deaf girls dressed in pure white signed in a stunning synchronised dance, Li led a 'never-ending dance'.
Starting tomorrow, we will see drama, we will see winning, and we will see disappointment. But above all, when we come together, we will be part of the creation of an almost touchable and definitely breathable distinctive energy source, which is at the heart of the Paralympic Movement, and it is what we call the Paralympic spirit. Once it gets hold, you can never let it go. It will last you a lifetime!
During the 12 days of the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games, you will realize that the differences that you might have thought existed in the world are in fact, far less apparent.
You will see that we are all people of One World
Xie Xie! (Thank you)
It now gives me great pleasure to invite the President of the People's Republic of China, Mr. Hu Jintao, to declare open the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games.