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Page last updated at 12:06 GMT, Saturday, 6 September 2008 13:06 UK

Dazzling show opens Paralympics

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Highlights of the opening ceremony at the Bejing Paralympics

The 2008 Paralympic Games was opened by Chinese President Hu Jintao on Saturday during a stunning ceremony at the Bird's Nest stadium in Beijing.

In the three-hour spectacular show, 6,000 performers and 4,000 disabled athletes from 148 countries took part in front of 91,000 ecstatic spectators.

Britain has a 206-strong team and was led into the arena by flag-bearer Danny Crates, 800m champion in Athens.

The action across 20 sports begins on Sunday and lasts until 17 September.

The opening spectacular featured a number of disabled actors and actresses, focusing on themes of space, time and life.

British team enter the arena
Danny Crates leads the British team into the Bird's Nest

What was unusual about the ceremony is that the athletes entered the stadium first and then watched the performances together with the audience.

"We present two Games of equal splendour as a solemn commitment to the entire world," said organiser Wang Wei.

About an hour into the extravaganza, a female spectator broke through the security cordon and made it onto the main arena. She was immediately removed by security staff.

This was the first security breach to occur during the Olympics and Paralympics in Beijing.

At the heart of the phenomenal show was Li Yue, a 12-year-old ballerina who lost her left leg in the Sichuan earthquake in May. She received a huge ovation as she conducted a group of ballerinas with hearing impairment before being held aloft.

One of the biggest cheers of the evening was for China's 332 athletes entering the arena with Chinese President Hu Jintao looking on with admiration. The host team is nearly certain to top the medal table.

Elizabeth Hudson

International Paralympic Committee president Philip Craven promised the Games would be truly memorable.

"During the 12 days of the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games you will realise that the differences that you might have thought existed in the world are in fact, far less apparent," he said.

"You will see that we are all people of one world."

Britain's 206-strong team were the 80th nation to enter the stadium and were led by athlete Crates, a three-time Paralympian and the defending T46 800 metres champion.

The likes of wheelchair athlete Dave Weir, who won silver and bronze in 2004, is competing in five events, while Welshman Dave Roberts has the chance to overhaul Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson's tally of 11 golds.

Paralympics mascot
The Paralympics mascot throws a few shapes in the opening ceremony

In the Laoshan Velodrome, British cyclist Jody Cundy is hoping to emulate Chris Hoy's historic Olympic achievement of three golds.

Natalie du Toit, who finished 16th in the women's 10km marathon swim in last month's Olympics, led the South African team to become the first person to carry a country's flag at the opening ceremony of both the Olympics and Paralympics.

She lost her lower left leg in a scooter accident seven years ago, won five golds and one silver in Athens, and is expected to dominate in the pool. Team-mate and double amputee Oscar Pistorius - dubbed "Blade Runner" - is also expected to star.

The Chinese President officially declared the 13th Paralympic Games open before the crowd watched in amazement as gold medallist Hou Bin, in a wheelchair, pulled himself up on a rope to the roof of the stadium to light the flame.

The Team Test in the equestrian taking place in Hong Kong is the first taste of Paralympic action on Sunday.

Officials say that more than one million tickets have been sold for the Paralympic events so far and are expecting one million more to be sold.

see also
Paralympics opening ceremony photos
06 Sep 08 |  Paralympics
Paralympics day one preview
06 Sep 08 |  Paralympics
Flag-bearer Crates hails ceremony
06 Sep 08 |  Paralympics
Why the Paralympics matter
05 Sep 08 |  Paralympics
Team GB 'to scrap for top three'
04 Sep 08 |  Paralympics
History of the Paralympics
04 Sep 08 |  Paralympics
Where will Paralympic medals be won?
04 Sep 08 |  Paralympics
Paralympic challengers
06 Sep 08 |  Paralympics
Paralympics on the BBC
25 Aug 08 |  Paralympics

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