London Paralympics open in journey of discovery

Thursday, August 30, 2012

London - The London Paralympic Games were officially opened in a storytelling ceremony highlighted by "a journey of discovery" on Wednesday night.

Guided by the world's most celebrated scientist, Professor Stephen Hawking, the ceremony explored the twin themes of reason and rights and was led by the character Miranda, featured in Shakespeare's The Tempest, heralding 11-day competitions for Paralympians.

Named Enlightenment, the three-hour show featured the use of umbrellas, quintessentially British and full of comic potential. The professional cast included 73 deaf and disabled performers, while the volunteer cast of 3 250 hailed from all over the world. They ranged in age from 10 to 80 years old.

A crowd of about 62 000 spectators at the London Olympic Stadium were offered an apple each to join in a probably largest "apple crunch" party, creating simultaneous bites of apples to feel the theme of "Gravity", in a tribute to Isaac Newton, which was one highlight of the total 11 scenes.

The opening section introduced Miranda, played by professional actress Nicola Miles-Wildin, who encouraged audiences to look at the world with a sense of wonder and curiosity.

Professor Hawking appeared on the "moon stage" and spoke of the quest for understanding the origins of the universe. He called for a new age of enlightenment as he acted as a guide to Miranda and audiences on a journey through time and the great discoveries that have changed perceptions about the possibilities of the human mind and the physical universe.

In the section titled "Spirit in Motion", which is the motto of the Paralympic Movement, athletes from across the world entered the stadium, where they received a suitably energizing welcome.

Teams from 164 countries and regions, the largest ever number in the history of the Paralympic Games, brought together about 4 200 athletes to compete in 503 medal events from 20 sports.

China's delegation, which includes 282 athletes among whom 47 percent are Paralympic debutants, was led by wheelchair racer Zhang Lixin to the Stadium. Zhang, who had one leg amputated at the age of 16 for suffering from a tumor, won four gold medals in the men's T54 category. He will compete in three events in London.

"Sport is about what you can do, what you can achieve, the limits you can reach, the barriers you can break. Sport shows what is possible," said Sebastian Coe, the chairman of the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. "And now we are ready. Now the stadiums are ready. Now the people of Britain are ready. Now the athletes are ready," he added.

The President of the International Paralympic Committee, Philip Craven, praised Ludwig Guttmann, the founding father of the Paralympics, echoing the theme of this chapter "Homecoming".

Sixty-four years ago, on the same day as the start of the 1948 London Olympic Games, Guttmann organized the first Stoke Mandeville Games for disabled personnel, which was regarded as the origin and inspiration for the Paralympics.

"You are here to continue the journey started by Sir Ludwig Guttmann and write the next chapter in the history of the Paralympic Movement. You not only have the abilities to win medals in London, but have the abilities to change the world. You will deliver "sport like never before," said Craven.

At the end of his speech, the President invited Queen Elizabeth II officially to declare the Games open.

An athlete, official and coach each pledged their commitment to the ideals of the Paralympic Movement, sportsmanship and impartiality.

A short, emotionally charged film showed the journey of the Paralympic Torch to the Stadium.

The Paralympic Flame was ignited in Stoke Mandeville village prior to a 24-hour torch relay on Tuesday night. The Flame then was carried over a total of 92 miles by 116 teams of five people in an overnight relay to reach the Stadium.

At the end of the film, Royal Marine Commando Joe Townsend - an aspiring Paralympic triathlete - was revealed with the Torch at the top of the ArcelorMittal Orbit, just outside the Stadium, and descended on a zip wire onto the field of play.

Townsend handed the Torch to David Clarke, a visually impaired athlete competing in the Paralympics GB 5-a-side Football team, who took the Flame towards the Cauldron.

He passed it to the final Torchbearer, Margaret Maughan-Britain's first gold medallist at the first Paralympic Games at Rome 1960 - who lit a single tiny flame within one of the copper petals, triggering the ignition of all the other petals.

The elegant stems gently rose towards each other and converged to create one great Flame of unity.

The ceremony ended with a special performance of the inspirational song "I Am What I Am".

Under the dazzling fireworks lightening the sky above the stadium, the audiences became part of the show by echoing the lyrics "I am what I am" to stage a memorable night for the world.

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