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Russia Hears ‘Goodbye America’ With Putin Opening Paralympics

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin puts his signature upon a board as he visits the mountain Paralympic village outside Sochi on March 6, 2014. Photographer: Alexey Nikolsky/Ria Novosti/AFP via Getty Images

The melody Russians know as “Goodbye America” blared over loudspeakers as the host country’s athletes arrived at Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi, where the Paralympic Games began 400 kilometers (250 miles) from the showdown in Crimea.

A raucous ovation greeted athletes at a ceremony last night at which Russian President Vladimir Putin officially opened the games. The 23-member team from Ukraine, whose government is trying to keep Crimea from breaking away and joining neighboring Russia, was represented by one athlete.

Crimea is the focus of the most tense standoff between Russia and the West since the Cold War. Pro-Russian forces seized control of the peninsula in the wake of Moscow-backed Viktor Yanukovych’s ouster as Ukrainian president.

All the Paralympic teams arrived to popular Soviet-era music, including the 1985 rock ballad “The Last Letter” by Nautilus Pompilius, which includes the words “Goodbye America, where I’ve never been.” The opening ceremony included an icebreaker called “Peace” suspended on straps.

“Just like the Paralympic movement, it’s breaking barriers, opening up new channels of communication and tracing new paths for mankind,” organizers said in a booklet distributed to spectators.

Over nine days, the 13th Winter Paralympic Games will include 547 athletes from 45 countries competing for 72 sets of medals in five sports -- Alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, ice sledge hockey and wheelchair curling.

The Paralympics are being held in the same venues that hosted the Sochi Winter Olympics in February.

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