ATHENS.- ANA – The Athens 2004 Paralympic Games began with an opening ceremony that was greeted with the warm applause of thousands of spectators who filled the Olympic Stadium as they did for the opening of the Olympic Games last month.
The ceremony began with 150 children entering the stadium and approaching a tree standing in the centre. The tree – symbolising the Tree of Knowledge – passed its light to the children, followed by fireworks that lit up the Athens night sky.
Immediately after, the President of the Hellenic Republic Kostis Stephanopoulos, President of the International Paralympic Committee Phil Craven, and Athens 2004 President Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki were introduced. The spotlight then turned to the 750-member choir which sang the Greek national anthem accompanied by Greek singer Vicky Leandros.
After the anthem was sung and the Greek flag raised, six percussionists entered the Stadium, creating a beat to which the 3,850 athletes from 140 countries participating in the Paralympics marched. Greece’s flag bearer was Paralympic gold medallist Constantinos Fykas.
Angelopoulos-Daskalaki addressed the thousands of spectators, after all the athletes had marched through the Stadium.
“The Games we open tonight are more than a great sports competition. They are a global celebration of strength and beauty; of diversity and inclusion. We celebrate the Games and the achievements of Paralympic athletes because you represent the best in all of us, the great human spirit that drives us to pursue our dreams and achieve what others view as impossible,” the Athens 2004 president said.
“When the Paralympic Flame is carried into the Stadium tonight it will illuminate not disabilities, but athletes; one of the largest gatherings of talent and determination ever assembled. It is an honour for all of us here in Greece – the staff of ATHOC and our wonderful volunteers, to host such an extraordinary group of athletes,” she continued, adding that Athens 2004 is the first organising committee to be staging both the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
“As we built our facilities and worked to make your stay here a pleasant one, something wonderful happened: We also made our own lives in Athens more pleasant and fulfilling as well. Athens has become a more accessible city. After you leave, Athens will remain a better city for all of its citizens, and we thank you for showing us the way,” Angelopoulos-Daskalaki said.
The IPC president also welcomed everyone to Athens after Angelopoulos-Daskalaki’s address. Craven congratulated the city and the citizens for contributing to Olympic preparations, as well as the public authorities, the IOC, the media and the volunteers.
“But the real heroes of the evening are the athletes. We are here to celebrate you and your sport, but there is more to it than that. You are a beacon of inspiration for millions of people around the world: For those who cannot be in the stadium tonight; for young athletes, who, watching you, will set their sights higher; for the families, friends and organisations that support those young athletes,” Craven said.
“The essence of the Paralympic spirit is a Greek heritage, expressed in just two words: “kalos” and “agathos”: harmony and excellence paired with nobility and ability. All of you here prove every day that you are all of these things. And tomorrow you will show the world that Paralympians embody the true Greek spirit. Olympians prided themselves on returning to their ancient homeland. The Paralympic Spirit has always been here,” the IPC president emphasised.
After Craven’s speech, Stephanopoulos declared the beginning of the 12th Paralympic Games.