Just over two weeks since the Olympics Games came to a spectacular finale, the Paralympics party will get started in Rio with the opening ceremony at the Maracana Stadium on Wednesday evening. Like the Olympics itself, the buildup to the Paralympics, held every four years in the same city and at the same venues as the Olympics, has been full of difficulties and negative headlines. Yet it will go on and will be the biggest to date, featuring more than 4,300 athletes competing in 22 different sports across 11 days.
A massive budget shortfall and poor ticket sales has threatened to compromise the very go ahead of the Games. While that has been averted thanks to a government bailout, major problems remain, leading International Paralympic Committee (IPC) president Philip Craven to paint a stark picture this week.
“This is the worst situation that we’ve ever found ourselves in at Paralympic movement,” he told The Associated Press. “We were aware of difficulties, but we weren’t aware it was as critical as this.”
However, a surge in interest as well as a crowd-funding campaign has seen 1.5 million tickets sold. And the IPC states that it now expects all 2.5 million tickets, down from an original capacity of 3 million, to be sold.
The event still has some way to go to match the success of the 2012 Paralympics in London when 2.7 million tickets were sold in what was widely seen as the most successful games to date. But one area where the Rio Paralympics has already taken a step forward is in television coverage.
A record 154 countries will broadcast the Games, up from 115 four years ago. And it will be the first time that those in the United States will be treated to extensive coverage. NBC will dedicate more than 70 hours to the Paralympics across NBC, NBCSN and the NBC Sports app, up from just six in London.
It all starts with the opening ceremony at the Maracana, beginning at 5.30 p.m. local time, 4.30 p.m. EDT. NBCSN will provide coverage in primetime from 7 p.m. EDT.
Like the Olympics, a torch that will be the centerpiece of the event, with the Paralympic version on its way to Rio after touring around Brazil. There is also a parade of nations. Following in the footsteps of Michael Phelps, who was the United States flag bearer in the Olympics opening ceremony, the U.S. team will be led out on Wednesday by Allison Jones.
The 32-year-old, who was born without her right femur, is one one of a select few athletes to have won gold at both the summer and winter Paralympics having competed in cycling and alpine skiing.
“Being able to consider ending my Paralympic career with this honor is just amazing,” she said. “Only one person gets chosen out of almost 300 hundred athletes on the team. That enough people believed in me, my story and my legacy, it’s just a real honor.”
Jones is not the only American who will have a prominent role in the opening ceremony. Amy Purdy, who won a bronze in the Sochi Paralympic Games, will perform a dance routine with an as yet unnamed partner. A double lower leg amputee after contracting bacterial meningitis at the age of 19, Purdy shot to prominence in the U.S. when competing in Dancing with the Stars. And she has been training intensely in Rio ahead of the opening ceremony.
“It will be a contemporary dance, with Brazilian elements,” Purdy said. “Having this opportunity to perform for the whole world, with millions of people watching, is an enormous responsibility. That's why I'm training so hard.”
As for the theme of the Paralympics opening ceremony, Sao Paulo writer Marcelo Rubens Paiva, who is sharing creative directions says it won't shy away from confronting steroptypes: about those with disabilities.
“We have politicized our ceremony, intentionally, and I’ve left my impression on it," he said in an interview with the Games' official website. "It starts with some humor to show that people with an impairment also laugh, also get themselves into funny situations, to shatter this stereotype of the sad little person. And to show solidarity, that we help ourselves, that people help us, out of good will.
“It won’t be cheesy, it will make us proud. You will cry tears of emotion at some points."
Paralympics Rio 2016
Start Time: 4:30 p.m. EDT (TV coverage begins at 7 p.m. EDT)
TV Channel: NBCSN
Live Stream: NBC Sports Live Extra, NBC Sports app, USParalympics.org