Following a year of delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Paralympics officially began at the empty National Stadium in Tokyo as the city remains under a state of emergency.
One hundred and sixty-two flags, beginning with the Refugee Paralympic Team and concluding with Japan, were represented in the parade of athletes.Live coverage hosted by Scott Russell and decorated wheelchair racer Sen. Chantal Petitclerc began at 6 a.m. ET on the CBC TV network, CBC Gem, the CBC Sports app and CBC Sports website.
The ceremony began at 7 a.m. ET., with a prime-time broadcast airing later Tuesday at 7 p.m. local time.
CBC TV coverage is presented with closed captioning and described video, and streaming will include American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation.
Among the few on hand were Douglas Emhoff, husband of U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, International Paralympic Committee President Andrew Parsons and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach.
Japanese Emperor Naruhito kicked off the festivities against the backdrop theme “We Have Wings.”
“I cannot believe we are finally here,” Parsons said in his opening remarks. “Many doubted this day would happen. Many thought it impossible. But thanks to the efforts of many, the most transformative sport event on earth is about to begin.”
Priscilla Gagné led Canadian athletes into the stadium after being announced as the country’s flag-bearer over the weekend. The Para judo medal contender, who has retinitis pigmentosa, a visual impairment, is competing in her second Paralympic Games.
“It is incredibly honouring and humbling. It’s exciting, it’s many feelings in one,” Gagné told CBC Sports ahead of carrying the flag at the ceremony. “It’s nostalgic, it’s such a gift, not something taken lightly.”
The 35-year-old from Sarnia, Ont., now based in Montreal, is among 128 Canadians, including guides, who are in Tokyo to compete in 18 different sports.
“It’s kind of like that old [Joni Mitchell] song ‘Big Yellow Taxi.’ Don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone,” said Gagné, expressing her relief that the Games have commenced following a trying delay caused by the pandemic.
Stephanie Dixon, Canada’s chef de mission, echoed Gagné sentiments.
“We all took a sigh of relief,” Dixon said. “It was so great to see the COVID measures working at the Olympics, our Canadian delegation performing so well, and getting home safely. It boosted the confidence for all of us.”
The ceremony opened with a performance titled “Para Airport,” which tells the story of a one-winged plane that has given up flying. But, inspired by the flight of other aircraft, the protagonist begins to feel the presence of her own ability to fly. The conclusion of the performance is expected to come following the parade of nations.
The international athlete walk-outs began with the six-member Refugee Paralympic Team.