At the 2012 London Paralympics, athletes competed in venues full of spectators who cheered from the first event to the last. Lines for tickets extended out the doors.
"Everybody in the crowd was legitimately excited," said U.S. swimmer Brad Snyder, who won two gold medals in London. "It wasn't production. It wasn't any magic."
London set a new standard for Paralympic attendance and organization. Four years later, concerns over budget problems and slow ticket sales have plagued the Rio Games. The athletes who will march in Wednesday night's opening ceremony at historic Maracana Stadium said their performances won't be affected, and they hope the new, higher profile of the Paralympics won't be either.
"We want progress," Snyder said. "We want to say that we've taken a step forward."
Rio Paralympics organizers have seen an uptick in ticket sales in recent days, announcing Tuesday that 1.6 million tickets have been sold. Yet concerns about budget and lags in preparation linger. On Tuesday, workers still were paving parts of the plaza around the Olympic Tennis Centre in Rio's Olympic Park.
"I don't want the movement to plateau or become stagnant," said U.S. wheelchair basketball player Desiree Miller, who also competed in London. "I want it to catch fire after Rio so by the time Tokyo comes around there's not a person in the States or a person in the world that doesn't know who a Paralympian is."
Organizers in London, in the country that gave birth to the Paralympics after World War II, sold a record 2.7 million tickets. Miller said that during the 2012 Games, people on the streets of London knew who she was and what sport she played.
The spotlight followed her home to Wisconsin. Customers recognize her at the sporting goods store where she works.
"They'll use the word Paralympian," Miller said. "Just for the public to use that word is huge — that people know the difference."
NBC, which broadcast six hours of coverage from the London Paralympics, is planning more than 70 hours of coverage on NBC, NBCSN and the NBC Sports app.
"We see how much work we're putting into it, but it's nice for the rest of the world to see," Irish cyclist Peter Ryan said.