London prepares for start of Paralympic Games


AFTER AN Olympics that surpassed all expectations, London is preparing for the start of the Paralympic Games this week.

Work to transform the city from Olympic to Paralympic host began the morning after the closing ceremony two weeks ago.

Hundreds of Olympic ring symbols around the Olympic Park have been replaced by the Agitos, the three-part symbol of the Paralympics signifying strength in motion.

Where once Olympic pentathlon champion Jessica Ennis’s image dominated the billboard in front of Stratford station as the symbol of the Games, an image of British Paralympian swimmer Ellie Simmonds, who won two gold medals in Beijing at the age of just 13, is now in its place.

There appears to be a determination to ensure that the Paralympics are not just an afterthought to the Olympics. The noises coming from the organisers have been unequivocally upbeat, with London mayor Boris Johnson saying they will surpass the Beijing Paralympics.

Lord Sebastian Coe, the chairman of the London organising committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, has said the British public have a sense of ownership over the Paralympic movement because it originated in Stoke Mandeville Hospital outside London in 1948.

The London Paralympics have already proved to be the most successful in history in terms of ticket sales. Less than 10 per cent of the 2.5 million tickets for the event are left and they are likely to be sold before the opening ceremony on Wednesday.

The public have embraced these games, with many missing the buzz of the Olympics.

Irish athletes such as gold-medal hopes Jason Smyth and Mike McKillop will find themselves competing in front of 80,000 spectators in the Olympic Stadium next weekend.

The 49-strong Irish Paralympic squad arrived in London on Friday after a week-long training camp in Portugal.

“The whole squad if flying, everybody is doing really well,” said Cathal Miller, a cyclist and Irish flag bearer at Wednesday’s opening ceremony.

Most of the athletes did morning and afternoon sessions to tweak their final preparations.

Smyth, the defending 100m and 200m Paralympic champion for visually impaired athletes and the star of the Irish team, tweeted his satisfaction at the facilities on offer in the Olympic Village this weekend.

Miller said there was a strong possibility he would face British champion Jon-Allan Butterworth, who lost his arm while serving in Iraq, in the track cycling.

“It is going to be nip and tuck,” he said.