“Let us share the journey of these Paralympians that is just beginning,” said Academy Award winning actor Louis Gossett Jr, the host of the Salt Lake 2002 Paralympic Opening Ceremony.
What a beginning it was: 46,000 spectators packed into Rice-Eccles Olympic Stadium to welcome more than 400 athletes fro 36 nations who paraded in on March 7. When it began to rain, the Paralympians simply donned their ponchos and began to dance beneath the raindrops, tossing their lapel pins into the stands.
Just as moving was the moment when Eric Weihenmeyer, the first visually impaired person to reach Mount Everest’s summit, brought the Paralympic Flame into the stadium with his guide dog at his side, handing the Flame off to Paralympic skiers Muffy Davis and Chris Waddell to light the Paralympic Cauldron.
A celebration of Paralympic sport culminating in fireworks, the Opening Ceremony featured a cast of nearly 1,000 cast members — including “snow spirits” and Children of Light —who revealed the Salt Lake 2002 Paralympic theme, “Awaken the mind, free the body, inspire the spirit.” Among the performers on March 7, 2002, were Wynonna, Donny Osmond, pop-classical violinist Vanessa-Mae, country sensation Billy Gilman and the incomparable Stevie Wonder.
Nine days later, on March 16, Olympic Medals Plaza in downtown Salt Lake City staged the Salt Lake 2002 Paralympic Closing Ceremony, a lively tribute highlighted by Paralympic skier Lacey Heward joining superstar Patti LaBelle for a rousing rendition of “Lady Marmalade.” More than 20,000 fans gathered not only to say goodbye to the Paralympians but also to honor the thousands of Team 2002 volunteers who made Salt Lake 2002 a reality.