Breaking Barriers in Sochi

140307jk-openingceremony-001At the 2014 Sochi Paralympic Winter Games Opening Ceremony today, “breaking the ice” was an apt theme for breaking down barriers and breaking down stereotypes — not only for athletes competing in the Paralympics, but for people around the world.

I don’t want to cloud the competition and the focus on the athletes with political posturing, but I’d be remiss not to say that I  hope this “breaking the ice” metaphor can also extend to the situation with Ukraine. According to my husband, who was at the Ceremony, one of the most moving moments was “hearing the place go nuts for the solo Ukrainian athlete.” Even for those of us who were watching on TV, we felt that energy too.

And as my friend — and unofficial, Facebook-fan-favorite, Olympic & Paralympic commentator — John Carideo posted yesterday, “I think [the Ukrainian athletes] coming into the stadium, under their own flag would be the most powerful unifying message that could be sent.” Agreed. Let’s hope that’s a small step towards peace.

Following are some images from Joe Kusumoto that capture the power and grace of the Opening Ceremony — just a teaser for the power and grace that will follow from the 587 athletes competing on the snow and ice over the next nine days.140307jk-openingceremony-002

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I’ll leave you today with an excerpt from IPC President Sir Philip Craven’s Opening Ceremony speech:

Thirty-four years ago when the old Soviet Union declined the opportunity to stage the 1980 Paralympic Games in Moscow, the prospect of Russia staging its first Paralympic Games was nothing but a dream. But dreams do come true, and since winning the Games seven years ago, this part of Russia has undergone a monumental transformation. However, the biggest transformation for this country is still yet to come. In the same way that the city of Sochi has built a barrier free environment for athletes and officials to enjoy, I call upon all those who experience these Games to have barrier free minds, too.

And to the athletes, he said:

You have here superb sporting venues to express your amazing talents and live up to the Paralympic values of determination and courage, inspiration and equality. Together you are the catalysts for change. United as one, you have the ability to change perceptions and alter attitudes like no other. You arrive here as the best prepared athletes ever to attend a Paralympic Winter Games. You will leave as role models, heroes, pioneers and most of all, Proud Paralympians.

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