7 Sep 2008

China opens Paralympics

5:06 pm on 7 September 2008

Beijing opened the 13th Paralympic Games in spectacular fashion on Saturday in the Bird's Nest stadium.

More than 6,000 performers took part in the three-hour event, which involved almost 1,000 volunteers, 2,503 special lights and 4,934 costumes.

It was overseen by renowned Chinese film director Zhang Yimou.

Highlights included a ballet performance by a girl who lost a leg in May's massive Sichuan earthquake and an athlete who hoisted himself up a rope - along with his wheelchair - to light the Paralympic flame.

The Games were declared officially open by Chinese president Hu Jintao. They continue until 17 September.

Almost 4,000 athletes from around the world are competing for 472 gold medals in 20 sports. Thirty New Zealanders are taking part.

China is again expected to dominate the medals as it did at the Olympics last month.

Veteran wheelchair rugby player Sholto Taylor carried the New Zealand flag at the opening ceremony.

Taylor, 36, is competing in his fourth Paralympics, and has two bronze medals and a gold from previous Games.

NZ team at Paralympics

New Zealand's Paralympic team is aiming to return from Beijing with 13 medals, three more than the country won in Athens four years ago.

The chef de mission Duane Kale says this year's target of 13 medals is not unrealistic.

He says SPARC's million dollar investment in the team is based on getting a good return and in this instance it is measured in medals.

In athletics, Matthew Slade and Tim Prendergast are both attending their third Paralympics and are considered strong medal contenders. Slade, who won gold in the 200m at Athens, will defend his title and also compete in the 100m. Prendergast will compete in the 1,500m and the 5,000m. Four years ago, he claimed gold in the 800m.

The team selected to defend the Wheel Blacks' title in Wheelchair Rugby boast plenty of experience, with six of the eight members of the squad original members of the Athens 2004 team. Curtis Palmer and Sholto Taylor are attending their fourth Paralympics and hold bronze medals from both the Sydney 2000 and Atlanta 1996 Games.

Shooter Michael Johnson will aim to match the gold medal he won in Athens 2004. He will compete in the 10m Air Rifle Prone and the 10m Air Rifle Standing.

Veteran powerlifter George Taamaru is competing in his third Paralympic Games and has represented New Zealand at two Commonwealth Games competitions.

In swimming, Daniel Sharp, who won a bronze medal in Athens, competes in the 100m breaststroke, 50m freestyle and 100m freestyle. He is joined in the pool by 15-year-old Sophie Pascoe and Cameron Leslie, aged 18.

New Zealand Paralympians won 10 medals in Athens in 2004 - six gold, a silver and three bronze.


Athletics - Terry Faleva'ai, Matthew Slade, Jessica Hamill, Kate Horan and Tim Prendergast.

Boccia - Liam Sanders, Greig Jackson, Maurice Toon, Kerri Bonner, Amanda Slade, Henderikus Dijkstra and Jeremy Morriss.

Cycling - Paula Tesoriero, Ann-Marie Donaldson, Annaliisa Farrell, Jayne Parsons and Fiona Southorn.

Powerlifting - George Taamaru.

Shooting - Michael Johnson.

Swimming - Daniel Sharp, Sophie Pascoe and Cameron Leslie.

Wheelchair Rugby - Curtis Palmer, Sholto Taylor, Jai Waite, Daniel Buckingham, Geremy Tinker, Adam Wakeford, David Klinkhamer and Tim Johnson.

Some source material from: New Zealand Olympic Committee, Beijing Organising Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad