RIO DE JANEIRO — Malaysia will begin their chase for a gold medal at the Rio Paralympic Games today, after a glittering opening ceremony which captured the public’s imagination.
The Games opened on Wednesday with samba, parading wheelchairs, giant balloons — and loud booing of Brazil’s president — at a sold-out Maracana stadium.
The extraordinary sight of US Paralympian Aaron Wheelz jumping in his wheelchair from a 17m ramp got the crowd on its feet.
Then the joyous rhythms of samba singers and a carnivalesque reproduction of a Rio beach scene got them dancing.
But Brazil’s tensions also flared with thousands in the crowd chanting “Out with Temer!” as newly sworn in President Michel Temer appeared at the ceremony just days after taking over from bitter rival Dilma Rousseff, who was impeached.
Temer’s hurried declaration of “I declare the Games open” met a roar of boos, while booing forced Brazilian Olympics boss Carlos Nuzman to pause his speech after he mentioned “thanks to the federal, state and municipal governments” before telling the athletes “You are superhumans”.
The Malaysian contingent was led by flag bearer Abdul Latif Romly, who is favoured to win gold in the long jump.
He was followed by chef de mission Ang Kean Koo and the rest of the contingent.
Malaysia started participating in the Paralympic Games in 1972 in Heidelberg, Germany with only three athletes but sent none for the next three editions.
Malaysia rejoined the Games in 1988 in Seoul, South Korea and won their first medal, a bronze, through P. Mariappan in powerlifting.
In Barcelona four years later, Malaysia won a silver through Cheok Kon Fatt (powerlifting) and two bronze medals — Mariappan (powerlifting) and Mohd Khasseri Othman (athletics).
In Beijing, in 2008, powerlifting athlete Siow Lee Chan created history by being the first Malaysian female para-athlete to win a medal and the only one in that edition. She won a bronze.
Four years ago, archer Hasihin Sanawi won a silver in the recurve event and a bronze through track and field star Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli in shot put.
Hopes are high Ziyad and Latif will bring back the elusive gold this year.
In the opening ceremony, more than 4,300 of the world’s toughest and most competitive disabled paraded ahead of 11 days of contests.
Some pushed their own wheelchairs, others were pushed, while others limped.
However, controversy hung over the no show by International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach — the first absence of an IOC chief since the 1984 Summer Games.
Bach is due at a mourning ceremony in Berlin for the late West German president Walter Scheel.
However, there have been suggestions that the no-show has to do with divisions over the Paralympic committee’s outright ban on Russian athletes after allegations of a state-sanctioned doping programme and IOC’s relatively softer line.
There were also reports in Globo and other Brazilian media outlets that Bach is wanted for questioning by local police investigating an illegal ticket selling ring allegedly involving a senior Irish Olympic official. Rio police are to give a press conference on the matter tomorrow. — Agencies