The iconic Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro will play host to a very special opening ceremony tonight. Between 8-19 September (IST), 4,300 of the best para-athletes in the world will compete for the title of Paralympic champion. The Paralympics in Rio, just as the able-bodied Games before them, have been plagued by budgetary and other constraints. Two days ago Phillip Craven, the head of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), told the Associated Press that it was the "worst situation that we've ever found ourselves in at Paralympic movement". It might not be the best way to go into the biggest para-sports competition in four years, but it is symbolic of the struggle these athletes have had to go through to make it this far. When the curtain goes up Craven and all of us can rest assured that these athletes will be focussed on one thing only—competing. And here are 10 reasons we should participate in their quest.
Because you can
In past years watching the Paralympics Games, particularly in India, has not been easy. National broadcasters, such as the BBC, have traditionally covered the Games but for Indian viewers there is little or no access. This year though, Paralympics.org will be broadcasting 680 hours of Rio Paralympics action, which includes 22 sports, available free to users at the click of a mouse. So, if you're reading this, you will be able to watch these amazing athletes in action, live, for the first time. Hoorah for the internet.
India should double its Olympic medal haul despite sending only 19 athletes
Coach Dr. Satyapal Singh has predicted that the Indian contingent at the Rio Paralympics will bring back at least 5 medals. Dr. Singh has been a mainstay of the Paralympic coaching staff since 2004. He is confident of his scientific training system that he built based on his multifaceted sporting education. He is sure that he has left the Indian team in top shape to be competitive at the highest level. It's never an easy prediction to make, but the squad is quietly confident of bringing home an elusive gold medal.
The Indian team has a current world record holder in its ranks
At Athens 2004 Devendra Jhajharia became only the second Indian Paralympian to win a gold medal. He smashed the world record for Javelin Throw in the F46 category with a throw of 62.15m beating the previous record by an astounding 2.38m. Jhajharia will be looking to relive past glories in Rio after coming off an impressive qualifying campaign, acquiring a silver at the IPC Athletics World Championships in Doha 2015. He will be hungry for a medal after being unable to compete at Beijing 2008 and London 2012 because the F46 category, for people with unilateral upper limb impairment, was not included in those games.
India's first ever blind Paralympian
Ankur Dhama will represent India in the 1500m T1 event—the category for completely blind athletes. In doing so he will become the first completely blind athlete to represent India at the Paralympic Games. Ankur has been performing exceptionally in recent years, especially at the Asian Para Games in Incheon in 2014 where he won 3 medals (1 Silver, 2 Bronze). Dr. Singh, his coach, is confident in Ankur's ability to bring back a medal from Rio.
Where there is a Bolt, there is a Smyth
Jason Smyth is a Paralympic sprinter from Northern Ireland (representing Ireland). Much like Usain Bolt he holds the world record for the 100m(10.46s) and 200m(21.05s) sprints in the T13 category. Smyth, 29, has already completed the golden double-double, by winning both sprints at Beijing 2008 and London 2012. Unfortunately, the IPC opted to remove the 200m sprint from the Rio programme so Smyth will not be able to replicate Bolt's extraordinary triple-double, achieved at the Olympic Games in Rio last month. However, the Irishman is odds-on favourite for the showcase sprint event. Smyth has gone as fast as 10.22s in able-bodied competition and his main rival will be local favourite, Gustavo Henrique Araujo. Cuban athlete Omara Durand is the reigning women's 100m and 400m champion from London and will also be competing in defence of her titles.
World records by the bucket
Due to the astounding leaps in training methods as well as equipment for para-athletes, officials are expecting Rio 2016 to be the greatest ever Games when it comes to athletic performance. Performances by para-athletes have steadily improved since London 2012 as has participation in events across the board. Six nations (Aruba, Congo, Malawi, Somalia, Sao Tome and Principe, and Togo) will debut at the Games taking the total to 4,300 athletes. That's more than London 2012 and double the number of competitors from Atlanta 96. The steady rise in quality and quantity will make the Rio Paralympics the most competitive and exciting in history.
A great chance to observe the advancements in prosthetics technology
Athletic events for differently-abled athletes have been present for many years especially after World War 2 when soldiers who had suffered grievous injuries used sport as a means to rehabilitate. Since the establishment of the Paralympics Games in Rome 1960 the Games have grown substantially. Technological advancements have set the pace for athletic achievement at para-events. Modern day Paralympians sport a wide variety of prosthetics that allow them to compete in more sports than previously possible. In many case prosthetics allow para-athletes to put in performances that rival able-bodied athletes. Oscar Pistorius's participation at the London Games was a watershed moment in the evolution of para-sports and Rio will hope to continue that legacy.
To be inspired
A number of para-athletes have overcome extreme adversity and, more often than not, have incredible stories to share. Those who were born, or grew up with, disability often had to face ostracism, bullying and other mental trauma to exacerbate the physical hardship they went through. Playing sport like "normal" kids was a dream for many; becoming an Olympian perhaps incomprehensible. Yet over 4000 of the best para-athletes will make the trip to Rio in one of the largest celebrations of human perseverance and endeavour. Witnessing the incredible feats that these para-athletes are able to perform will give us a renewed sense of self-belief and positivity.
The Paralympics are just as prestigious and wonderful as the Olympics
The name Paralympics doesn't just sound like the Olympics but is a whole new Olympics. Paralympic athletes are the world's elite in their disciplines. The Games are not the same as the Special Olympics, where anyone above the age of eight with an intellectual disability can compete. To ensure that variations in disabilities do not give an advantage to any particular athlete, they are organised into very specific disability categories. Therefore, the Paralympics have the same high level of competitiveness and excitement as the Olympics.
More people are watching the Paralympic games than ever before
Viewership of the Paralympic has been steadily increasing over the past years. The London 2012 games were watched by an international audience of 3.4 billion people, that is a close to a billion more people than the Beijing games. With the introduction of 6 new countries participating in the first ever games in South America, officials are hoping to break the 4 billion viewers mark at this year's Games. Be warned: missing out will result in major FOMO.