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Chinese ballet girl who lost a leg in Sichuan earthquake performs

Posted on 7:02 AM by Sameer Shah




A moving performance by an 11-year-old ballet student who lost a leg in the Sichuan earthquake in May set the tone for a breathtaking and sometimes emotional Paralympic Games Opening Ceremony


Just like the Olympic Games pageantry last month, the festivities in the Bird's Nest stadium established new standards for dazzling extravagance.

The organisers had promised an opening gala of "equal splendour" to the show that ushered in the Olympics and they did not disappoint, creating a glittering theatrical feast with a 6,000-strong cast that included hundreds of disabled performers.

It featured a sign-language dance by a troupe of 320 deaf girls, music and singing by blind musicians and a barrage of fireworks. However, the most memorable moment came when earthquake survivor Li Yue took centre stage in a wheelchair, dressed in a pink tutu, to perform a "hand ballet" to Ravel's Bolero.

The gala ended with a lighting of the cauldron that was rich in symbolism as one-legged Chinese high-jumper Hou Bin used his own strength to haul himself and his wheelchair up to the roof of the stadium on a pully before igniting the flame to a thunderous roar from the 91,000 crowd.

Pointedly, however, the organisers chose to give wheelchair fencer Jin Jing the honour of bringing the Paralympic torch into the stadium. It was Jin who became known in China as the "angel in the wheelchair" after she stubbornly clung on to the torch in Paris in April as pro-Tibet protesters tried to wrestle it from her grasp.

The ceremony marked the beginning of 11 days of competition for more than 4,000 disabled athletes from 148 countries, including 206 from Britain. They were led into the stadium during the athletes' parade by flag-bearer Danny Crates, a middle-distance runner who lost his right arm in a car accident 14 years ago.

The British team, who have finished second in the medals table at the last two Paralympics, are hoping to continue the success of Britain's Olympic athletes in Beijing but have little chance of matching the might of the host nation, which dominated the Athens Games four years ago by winning 63 gold medals and is expected to win many more on home soil.

The 20 sports at the 13th Paralympics, which ends on September 17, include athletics, swimming, powerlifting, wheelchair fencing and two versions of football - five-a-side and seven-a-side - as well as the lesser-known goalball and boccia.

While another Chinese triumph is a foregone conclusion, what is less certain is the impact the Games will have on Chinese attitudes to disability.

China has 83 million disabled people, according to official figures, but many face prejudice and discrimination in a society were disability is still regarded as a source of shame.

Disabled rights campaigners hope the positive images of the Paralympics, starting with yesterday's spectacular celebrations, will be a catalyst for change.

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