Two weeks after the close of the 19th Asian Games, the lotus-shaped Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre Stadium was filled with the spirit of competition and dreams of victory again as the 4th Asian Para Games opened on Sunday night. China's Vice-Premier Ding Xuexiang declared the Asian Para Games open, as the event returns to China for the second time following the inaugural edition in Guangzhou in 2010. Under the theme of "Hearts Meet, Dreams Shine", the opening ceremony reached its pinnacle when China's para swimmer Xu Jialing, who clinched seven gold medals at the Jakarta Asian Para Games in 2018, lit the cauldron with an intelligent bionic arm, emphasising that technologies can help realise dreams, reports Xinhua. India Prepares To Send 446-Member Contingent to Asian Para Games 2023 in Hangzhou.

A digital "Divine Bird" from the local Liangzhu Culture flew in towards the sacred flame and hovered while the cauldron was lit, and eventually turned into the mascot of the Hangzhou Asian Para Games "Fei Fei".

Ignited in Guangzhou, the Asian Para Games flame made its way to the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre Stadium following a three-day torch relay in Hangzhou, which concluded on Saturday and involved 600 torchbearers including 188 persons with disabilities. Xu was one of the six athletes relaying the flame in the stadium, joined by five other Paralympic champions: athletics' Zhou Guohua, sitting volleyball's Zheng Xiongying, high jump's Hou Bin, swimming's Du Jianping and wheelchair curling's Wang Haitao.

An important element in Chinese culture and the city flower of Hangzhou, the osmanthus served as a thread running through the opening ceremony, with a golden osmanthus flower epitomising the charm of Hangzhou, a golden osmanthus crown celebrating hard work and achievement, and a golden osmanthus tree showing the vitality of life.

Afghanistan led the parade of athletes as delegations entered in alphabetical order based on their national or regional Paralympic Committee names. Wheelchair basketball player Huang Xiaolian and wheelchair fencer Sun Gang held China's national flag together when the Chinese delegation marched onto the stage last.

Wang Hao, president of the 4th Asian Para Games Hangzhou Organizing Committee (HAPGOC) and governor of Zhejiang Province, extended his warmest welcome to all attendees, adding that the goal has been to hold an Asian Games and an Asian Para Games that are equally spectacular.

"Zhejiang Province is working to become a demonstration zone for achieving common prosperity, where every person has the opportunity to shine and realize his or her dream. 'Hearts Meet, Dreams Shine' is not only the slogan of this Asian Para Games, but also our shared aspiration," he noted.

Majid Rashed, president of the Asian Paralympic Committee (APC), expressed his gratitude to the para-athletes in his address.

"Through your performances, your skill, your strength, your passion, you are showing the world that there is no limit to what can be achieved with determination and courage. "And this will inspire more young people with impairments to follow in your footsteps and encourage governments to increase their support for people with disabilities.

"This is the power of the Paralympic Movement and you athletes are at the very heart of it, and here in Hangzhou is the stage, where you can showcase your amazing talents," he added. "And what a stage Hangzhou is!" "The huge efforts of the Chinese government and HAPGOC in making these Games a success is helping us get closer to achieving our vision of creating an inclusive Asia through sport." Asian Games 2023: Odisha Sports Minister Tusharkanti Behera Felicitates Javelin Star Kishore Kumar Jena.

International Paralympic Committee (IPC) president Andrew Parsons also attended the opening ceremony. Nearly 3,100 athletes from 44 countries and regions will take part in 564 events across 22 sports at the Hangzhou Asian Para Games, which runs through October 28. Along with some 2,090 delegation officials, 1,550 technical officials and 3,090 media personnel, the Hangzhou Asian Para Games sets a new record in terms of the number of participants.

(The above story first appeared on LatestLY on Oct 23, 2023 09:03 AM IST. For more news and updates on politics, world, sports, entertainment and lifestyle, log on to our website