The 2022 Paralympic Winter Games Begin With Touching And Inclusive Opening Ceremony
by Stuart Lieberman
Flag bearers Tyler Carter and Danelle Umstead lead Team USA during the Opening Ceremony of the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on March 4, 2022 in Beijing.
BEIJING – With the Chinese capital decked out in red-colored lanterns and the Shuey Rhon Rhon mascot draped on banners and buildings galore, the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 kicked off on Friday evening with a touching and inclusive Opening Ceremony at the famed “Bird’s Nest” National Stadium.
The 67-strong Team USA delegation in Beijing, including two guides for visually impaired athletes, is the second largest delegation in Beijing after the host nation and spans all six Paralympic sports at the Games: alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, snowboard, sled hockey and wheelchair curling.
The U.S. Paralympic Team features 39 returning Paralympians, with Nordic skiing’s Oksana Masters and Aaron Pike competing in their sixth Games and alpine skiing’s Laurie Stephens in her fifth. The U.S. sled hockey team will skate for its record-extending fourth consecutive and fifth overall Paralympic gold, while the U.S. wheelchair curling squad will try to make the Paralympic podium for the first time after finishing fourth at the last world championships.
Competitions at the Games begin on Saturday and run through Sunday March 13.
The Opening Ceremony began with a starry ocean overtaking the base of the stadium and showcasing the history of the 12 previous Paralympic Winter Games before freezing over to read “2022 Beijing China.” A choir of 24 visually impaired university singers sang an acapella version of the Chinese national anthem, “My Motherland and Me,” while the host nation’s flag was raised. Four Shuey Rhon Rhons appeared shortly thereafter, skating along the stage to welcome the parade of athletes with 13 trumpeters belting out a melody behind them to represent the 13th Paralympic Winter Games.
Team USA was led into the Opening Ceremony by flag bearers and alpine skiers Danelle Umstead, a four-time Paralympian, and Tyler Carter, a three-time Paralympian. Carter noted he’s never had as many notifications blowing up his phone as when he was announced as one of the flag bearers earlier in the week.
“It’s so special. I’m shocked. I didn’t see it coming,” said Carter, of Topton, Pennsylvania. “It’s a huge honor to be representing the team and our entire country, and for the whole world to be having a moment and coming together for something positive.”
The Paralympic flag is carried into the stadium during the Opening Ceremony Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on March 4, 2022 in Beijing.
Chinese citizen performers then enacted the precious moments of life — a girl with a visual impairment lighting the red lantern of life, a happy family chasing their dreams, and a mother with a limb deficiency eagerly awaiting the return of her daughter — to highlight impaired and able-bodied individuals coming together and supporting one another. The phrase “Change Starts with Sport” eventually overtook the center of the stage in Braille, as a performer with a visual impairment held up his hand to showcase the Paralympic agitos, representing that it will always be grasped tightly.
“Here in Beijing, Paralympic athletes from 46 different nations will compete with each other, not against each other,” said International Paralympic Committee President Andrew Parsons. “Tonight, the Paralympic Movement calls on world authorities to come together, as athletes do, and promote peace, understanding and inclusion. The world must be a place for sharing, not dividing. Change starts with sport. Not only can it bring harmony, but it can be a catalyst to transforming the lives of people, cities and countries.”
Following the raising of the Paralympic flag and playing of the Paralympic Anthem, a group of children — half of them with a hearing impairment — performed the Winter Paralympic Waltz. As they expressed themselves through dance, a smiling face of cascading colors developed below them and 13 sign language interpreters positioned themselves around the center of the stage.
The Paralympic torch finally made its way into the National Stadium after switching hands with 565 torchbearers and traveling through the Beijing, Yanqing and Zhangjiakou competition zones. Eight different Para athletes carried it through the stadium, including four-time Paralympic track and field gold medalist Duan Li, who lit the cauldron as a firework in the shape of the Paralympic agitos blossomed in the sky. The ceremony concluded with a pyrotechnic display and performers signing “Together for a Shared Future,” expressing their blessings for the Paralympic Winter Games.
With this, Beijing has now become the first city to host both a summer and winter Paralympics following on from the 2008 Games. The transformative legacy of 2008 can still be felt in China for the estimated 83 million people with a disability. Major advancements were made throughout the country when it comes to accessibility, including the introduction of new laws that led to greater inclusion in workplaces, education and society in general.
Presented by Toyota, NBCUniversal will showcase unprecedented coverage of these Paralympic Winter Games’ 78 medal events over the next nine days, with more than 230-plus hours of programming, 120 of which are being televised across NBC, USA Network and the Olympic Channel. All events will be streamed live on Peacock, NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app.
Want to follow Team USA athletes during the Paralympic Games Beijing 2022? Visit TeamUSA.org/Beijing-2022-Paralympic-Games to view the competition schedule, medal table and results.
Stuart Lieberman has covered Paralympic sports for more than 10 years, including for the International Paralympic Committee at the London 2012, Sochi 2014 and PyeongChang 2018 Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.