The Winter Paralympics' opening ceremony was dominated by calls for peace and inclusiveness.
The Paralympic Games in Beijing begin on Friday, with most of the world's attention focused on Russia's war in Ukraine and its domestic ramifications.
In reality, just a day before the Games were to begin, officials announced that Russian and Belarussian athletes would be barred from competing.
Hundreds of world-class athletes are expected to compete in this year's activities, which will take place from March 13 to March 13. According to Paralympic organizers, there are 564 participants representing 46 countries on the list, including a record number of 138 women.
They will compete in 78 events spanning six sports and two disciplines, ranging from ice sports like as para ice hockey and wheelchair curling to snow sports such as alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, biathlon, and snowboarding.
Even armchair marathon runners can prepare for the race: According to NBC Universal, there will be 230 hours of Paralympic programming, including a new high of 120 hours on television. Three of those hours will be broadcast in primetime, making the Winter Paralympics a first.
You can watch events on NBC, Peacock, USA Network, Olympic Channel, and NBC's Olympics website and sports app. Here's a look at what you can view each day.
The highlights from Friday's opening ceremony are shown here.
The Parade of Nations featured teams of varying sizes.
The Parade of Nations, led by the Belgian delegation, began roughly 15 minutes into the ceremony.
Countries usually march in the alphabetical order of the host country, which is established in Beijing by the stroke order of the first character in each country's simplified Chinese name.
It featured both large and small teams. China had the most athletes, with 96, followed by Team USA with 65. Other delegations, including Puerto Rico's and Israel's, were each represented by a single athlete.
Because Italy is hosting the 2026 Winter Paralympics in Milan, Italian athletes marched second-to-last. The parade was brought to a close by China's delegation.
Ukrainian athletes got a warm reception
Ukrainian athletes were among the first to march in the ceremony, entering the stadium to what seemed like a roar from the crowd.
As they walked across the floor, some of Ukraine's 20-person delegation raised their fists. The head of the International Paralympic Committee, Andrew Parsons, received a standing ovation on television.
Valeriy Sushkevych, head of the Ukraine Paralympic Committee, described the team's arrival in Beijing as a "miracle," telling reporters on Thursday that several of the athletes narrowly avoided Russian explosives as they left.
The presence of Ukraine at the Paralympics, according to Sushkevych, is "a sign that Ukraine was, is, and will be a country."
"Right now, there are two front lines," he continued. "The first is for our Ukrainian troops. One of them just happens to be in Beijing."
Team USA was represented by two seasoned alpine skiers.
A total of 67 competitors, including two guides for visually impaired athletes, make up Team USA, which is made up of veterans and rookies. Thirty-nine athletes have competed in past Paralympic Games, with 26 of them winning medals. 22 of them have earned gold medals.
Two six-time Paralympians, Nordic skiers Oksana Masters and Aaron Pike, and one five-time Paralympian, alpine skier Laurie Stephens, make up the team. Three of the team players are participating in their fourth Winter Games. Here are some sportsmen to keep an eye on.
Danelle Umstead and Tyler Carter, both Alpine skiers, were chosen by a majority vote to carry the American flag at the opening ceremony.
Carter is a three-time Paralympian who first competed in the 2014 Sochi Games. He was the Team USA athlete service coordinator for the Paralympic Games in Tokyo and now works with the United States Olympic and Paralympic Museum.
The 28-year-old has stated that he intends to retire following the Beijing Olympics, and has described the accolade as "a really great way to cap my sporting career and Games experience."
Umstead was accompanied by her husband Rob, who also serves as her guide. Umstead is a four-time Paralympian and three-time medalist. They are the team's only married pair, and they have been competitively skiing together since 2008.
"I was completely taken aback," Umstead said of her teammates' decision. "They did something amazing, and they told my wife about it. He's been by my side throughout everything I've accomplished. He's overjoyed. This is a fantastic prize, and I was very surprised."
The athletes marched through the stadium waving and snapping selfies while wearing red, white, and blue jackets.
The head of the Paralympics made a strong plea for peace and inclusiveness.
The IPC president, Parsons, began and ended his remarks with a passionate plea for peace.
"I am appalled by what is occurring in the world right now," he said to applause, "as the leader of an institution with inclusiveness at its basis, where diversity is respected and differences are embraced."
He did not mention Russia by name, but he did call for the Olympic Truce for Peace, which was endorsed by consensus by the United Nations in December. The traditional Olympic Truce must be observed from seven days before the start of the Beijing Olympics until seven days after the end of the Paralympics, according to the symbolic resolution.
Parsons, speaking on behalf of the Paralympic movement, urged world leaders to join athletes in promoting peace, understanding, and inclusiveness, emphasizing that the globe "must be a place for sharing, not for separating."
He commented at one point, "Here in Beijing, paralympic athletes from 46 different countries will compete with each other, not against each other." "Paralympians understand that an adversary does not have to be a foe, and that by working together, we can accomplish a lot more."
Parsons discussed athletics as a catalyst for change, citing China's efforts to make venues more accessible and adopt COVID-19 safeguards, noting that the epidemic made it particularly difficult for athletes to prepare for their competitions.
He exhorted them to embrace the strength in their differences, noting that their accomplishments demonstrate to the rest of the world that individuals with disabilities "can do anything they choose, if given the chance."
The IPC, International Disability Alliance, and a coalition of other groups have launched the #WeThe15 campaign to ensure that the world's 1.2 billion citizens with disabilities have access to the same degree of opportunity, according to Parsons.
At the end of his speech, he conveyed his thanks in English, Chinese, and his native Brazilian. He then raised his arms in the air and screamed, "Peace!" to more applause from the audience.
Themes of connectedness and inclusion were prominent.
According to the NBC announcers, the ceremony's narrative part featured a mix of performers with and without impairments.
It also used lantern imagery, which is appropriate given that the mascot for the 2022 Paralympics is Shuey Rhon Rhon, an anthropomorphic lighting lantern. (Last month, fluffy panda Bing Dwen Dwen stole the show as the Olympic mascot.)
A young girl took a lantern and placed it on the stadium's high-definition LED floor to add color and movement. Parents playing with a youngster, a mother embracing a girl in a backpack, a man and woman holding hands, and a little boy joyously greeting an elderly guy were among the many moments of people bonding.
Two youngsters colored the Paralympic insignia – red, blue, and green shapes representing movement – on the hand of Hsiao Huang-chi, a famous Taiwanese musician who is vision challenged. Another performer pushed her palm against his, revealing the emblem on her hand. After that, everyone on stage raised their hands to reveal the same brightly colored marks.
A big group of dancers on wheeled chairs — half of the performers were hearing-impaired, according to the announcers – created patterns and designs on the bright floor. Thirteen interpreters stood around them on rotating LED snowflakes, extending their arms and fingers to the beat of the music (symbolizing the 13th Winter Paralympics).
The torch ended up within a big snowfall after a long relay.
According to organizers, the Paralympic torch resembles a silver and gold scroll and is comparable to its Olympic version. With a spiral shape that evokes the 2008 Games' cauldron, it recognizes Beijing's legacy as the first city to hold both the Summer and Winter Olympics.
The torch relay, which began on Wednesday, had 565 torchbearers from Beijing, Yanqing, and Zhangjiakou, spread across three competition zones. The final flame comprises nine flames from nine different locations, including the Paralympics' birthplace in London and various monuments in Beijing.
A video montage of individuals touching their torches together to light them against a variety of backdrops and locations was shown during the opening ceremony. Once inside the stadium, a group of Chinese Paralympians – who had won gold in everything from alpine skiing to sitting volleyball to swimming and wheelchair basketball - passed the flame to one another's torches.
Li Duan, a visually impaired long jumper who won medals in Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008 before retiring, was the torchbearer. He carried the torch to the cauldron raised in the stadium's center, accompanied by a guide. It was shaped like a big snowflake made up of smaller flakes, similar to the artwork used at the Olympic opening ceremony last month.
Duan was alone when a platform appeared from the stadium floor, taking him to the center of the snowflake. The crowd applauded and cheered while he searched for a suitable location to connect the torch, and erupted in applause when he finally did so.
As singers sung, audience members rushed onto the stage, and fireworks exploded over the stadium, a snowflake rose toward the ceiling.