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Breaking the Ice, breaking down barriers: XI Paralympics open in Sochi (PHOTOS)

Published time: March 08, 2014 01:40
The opening ceremony of the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, March 7, 2014. (RIA Novosti)

The opening ceremony of the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, March 7, 2014. (RIA Novosti)

A spectacular show kicked off the XI Paralympic Winter Games at Fisht Stadium in Sochi as athletes from around the world set out to prove that it's possible to overcome obstacles, unite, and achieve the unbelievable.

The opening ceremony of the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, March 7, 2014. (RIA Novosti)

The vibrant opening ceremony was called "Breaking the Ice" to honor the strength of the human spirit, and showed the importance of changing perceptions and promoting inclusiveness in society.

“Together you are the catalysts for change. United as one, you have the ability to change perceptions and alter attitudes like no other,” Sir Philip Craven, president of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), said during the opening ceremony.

An icebreaker ship called "Peace" is seen during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, March 7, 2014. (Reuters / Alexander Demianchuk)

The central theme of the Paralympic Winter Games is Togetherness, to demonstrate that together we can overcome any obstacles.

The ‘Peace’ icebreaker, which appeared on stage during the opening ceremony, played a key role in conveying the main message that the Games are trying to send: coming together and breaking down stereotypes and biases.

Performers take part in the opening ceremony of the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, March 7, 2014. (RIA Novosti)

As the Games get underway in Sochi, 547 athletes from 45 countries will compete for 72 gold medals in five sports over 10 days.

That is the largest number of athletes to take part in the event since it was launched in 1976, breaking a new record.

Representatives of Russia during the parade of athletes and members of national delegations at the opening ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Winter Paralympics. (RIA Novosti)

Host country Russia has nearly 70 athletes competing, and they're a force to be reckoned with. The Russian team placed second in London and Vancouver, but hopes to earn the top spot this time around.

Ukrainian paralympic cross-country skier and biathlete Mykhaylo Tkachenko enters the stadium the Fisht Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Paralympic Games in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on March 7, 2014. (AFP Photo / Kirill Kudryavtsev)

The Sochi Paralympic Games have the ingredients to provide a bit of everything: passion, pride, and a drop of politics, as Ukraine’s sole athlete performing in the opening ceremony received thunderous applause.

Norwegian paralympic cross-country skier Mariann Marthinsen (C) flies Norway's national flag as she leads the Norwegian delegation into the Fisht Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Paralympic Games in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on March 7, 2014. (AFP Photo / Kirill Kudryavtsev)

Paralympians came together during the opening ceremony, demonstrating the central themes of unity, equality, and inclusiveness.

"Over the coming days you will watch high performance sport showcasing feats of endurance that will surprise you, tremendous skills that will excite you and examples of human endeavor that will inspire you. The sport you witness here will change you - not just for now, but forever," IPC President Sir Philip Craven said.

Performers take part in the opening ceremony of the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, March 7, 2014. (AFP Photo / Kirill Kudryavtsev)

“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," Craven added.

"Sport is a great way, great vehicle for someone to find their life again after maybe what could be termed a 'tragedy,'" he said.

Performers take part in the opening ceremony of the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, March 7, 2014. (AFP Photo / Kirill Kudryavtsev)

Craven hopes the Games will help change people's attitudes towards disabled people.

"If you look at how the Paralympic movement has developed since the 1990s, this is a game changer and a changer for the lives of probably 10% of the Russian population," he said.

Denmark's flag-bearer Ulrik Nyvold (C), leads his country's contingent during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, March 7, 2014. (Reuters / Alexander Demianchuk)

Dmitry Chernyshenko, president of the Sochi Organizing Committee, said that he hopes the Games will "inspire millions of people to reach new heights."

Performers take part in the opening ceremony of the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, March 7, 2014. (RIA Novosti)

The Paralympic Games are a testament to the power of sport and the ability of ordinary people to rise above things which otherwise could conquer the human spirit.

One can learn from Paralympians that “even the biggest challenge can be seen not as an obstacle but an opportunity and that we choose every day the way we perceive our life," Sochi Paralympics Ambassador Natalia Vodianova said.

Performers take part in the opening ceremony of the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, March 7, 2014. (RIA Novosti)

The potential for the enlightenment that the Games will bring is important for Russia, which does not have a good track record of accommodating its disabled population - although there are signs that this is beginning to change.

Performers take part in the opening ceremony of the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, March 7, 2014. (RIA Novosti)

144 of the 1,000 performers that participated in the opening ceremony were people with various disabilities, including a choir of disabled children.

Performers take part in the opening ceremony of the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi March 7, 2014. (Reuters / Christian Hartmann)

New ground will be broken in Russia and the athletes, just by competing, will have a dramatic influence on an international audience.

Performers take part in the opening ceremony of the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, March 7, 2014. (RIA Novosti)

Russian sports fans before the opening ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Winter Paralympics. (RIA Novosti)

One of the central images of the performance was the Firebird - a magical bird of fire symbolizing the spirit of Russia.

Performer takes part in the opening ceremony of the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, March 7, 2014. (RIA Novosti)

"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," Craven said at the opening ceremony.

Performers take part in the opening ceremony of the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, March 7, 2014. (Reuters / Alexander Demianchuk)

The Paralympic Games show more than anything that sport can bring hope and make a real difference to people's lives.

"One thing about Paralympians is that they’re fighters; they’re fighters who fight very, very hard for what they believe in, for what their rights are, and for what their freedom should be," Craven told RT. To read the rest of RT's interview with the IPC president, click here.