By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – With one week to go before the start of the much-anticipated 2016 Rio Paralympics, some of the best para-athletes in the world began arriving in the Olympic Village in Barra da Tijuca on Wednesday, August 31st. By day’s end, officials estimated some 2,500 athletes, trainers, coaches, and staff, including several guide dogs for the visually impaired athletes, have moved into the athletes’ residences.
Unsurprisingly, the delegation to receive the most fanfare were the para-athletes representing host-nation Brazil who arrived Wednesday afternoon. Throngs of cheering hometown fans greeted the group of about fifty Brazilian paralympians as they got off their plane at Santos Dumont Airport, before going to the Village.
Team Brazil officials hope to improve on the country’s successful 2012 London Paralympic campaign, where the team finished seventh in the medal table, with 21 gold medals, fourteen silvers, and eight bronze.
“We’re going after new medals,” said Brazilian fencing champion Monica Santos. “We are counting on the fans and calling on everyone to pass us positive energy.” Just as in the Olympics, host-nation Brazil is bringing its largest-ever delegation to the Paralympics with 279 athletes.
Most of the 4,350 athletes competing in the Paralympics, similar to their Olympic counterparts, are staying at the Olympic Village located in the upscale neighborhood of Barra da Tijuca. The site is ideally situated near Olympic Park, the largest of both the Olympic and Paralympic event sites.
Although the Village, the largest athletes’ residence in Olympic history, was designed to be accessible, with wide doors and corridors, and large wheelchair lifts, since the Olympics ended, further modifications were made to prepare for the world’s greatest para-athletes, including removing beds and chairs to provide even more space and installing an on-site prosthetic and orthotic repair center.
“It’s good to move in already,” Dutch seven-a-side footballer Iljas Visker told Rio 2016. “Everything is fine, a good bed and shower, the village seems good, what we hoped for.”
The 2016 Paralympics begins with the opening ceremony on September 7th at Maracanã Stadium and will feature para-athletes from more than 160 countries competing in 22 different sports competitions.