Late Wednesday night, the British Queen declared the London 2012 Summer Paralympic Games officially open, during a spectacular and colorful opening ceremony watched by some 80,000 spectators inside the Olympic Stadium in east London and millions of TV viewers all over the world. It was described as a celebration of diversity.
Libya was present for the opening ceremony with two athletes, Abdulrazag Baaba – who carried the flag – and Hamza Al-Hamali paraded with Libyan officials and the rest of the 4,280 athletes from 166 countries around the Stadium. Despite their disabilities, they expressed their joy that they could offer their contribution to the beginning of such an august event that during it, the sport will prevail. Throughout the 11 days of sports, athletes will compete for 503 gold medals.
In his inaugural address, Paralympics chief Lord Sebastian Coe told the crowd: “Prepare to be inspired, prepare to be dazzled, prepare to be moved. It is my great honor to say welcome home to the Paralympic Games.”
He said Britain “was ready” and the crowds in attendance would be “unprecedented”, adding: “These will be a Games to remember.”
Eight members of the British under-22 wheelchair basketball team were given the honor of carrying the Paralympic flag into the stadium. It was raised by members of the armed forces before the Queen declared the Games open.
At the close of the ceremony, Britain’s first Paralympic Games gold medallist, Margaret Maughan, 84, who won gold in archery at the 1960 Rome Paralympics, had the honor of lighting the cauldron. She lit a tiny flame on the ground, igniting more than 200 copper petals. Long stems then rose towards each other to form a cauldron, signifying unity.
She was handed the flame by David Clarke, a member of the GB five-a-side football team after Joe Townsend, a Royal Marine Commando – an aspiring Olympic triathlete, who lost both legs while serving in Afghanistan – descended on a zip wire into the stadium from the top of the nearby Orbit tower.
The Paralympic torch began its journey in Stoke Mandeville, Buckinghamshire, the spiritual home of the Paralympic Games, on Tuesday night. It was carried by 580 torchbearers in total, and after being carried past some of London’s most famous landmarks, it was used to light a scaled-down version of the Olympic cauldron.
The largest contingent of athletes at the Games is Australia’s made up of 305 athletes. Next, come the GB team with 288.
The competition proper kick starts Thursday with Wheelchair basketball, shooting, swimming and track cycling among the events set to feature on an opening day.
Via Tripoli Post