Reception for Irish team shakes London's Olympic Stadium
PREPARE TO be dazzled. After a day so drab and drizzly that part of the torch itself had to be sent to the stadium in a taxi, the Paralympic Games got under way last night in an explosion of light in London’s east end.
The skies cleared and the athletes paraded, sent on their way by none other than Stephen Hawking. The 70-year-old theoretical physicist, described by ceremony co-director Jenny Sealey as “the most famous disabled person anywhere in the world”, kicked off the 14th games to be held since 16 archers competed on the lawn of Stoke Mandeville hospital in 1948.
“The Paralympic Games is about transforming our perception of the world,” Hawking told a crowd of 80,000 people in the Olympics Stadium. “We are all different. There is no such thing as a standard or run-of-the-mill human being. But we share the same human spirit. What is important is that we have the ability to create and this creativity can take many forms from physical achievement to theoretical physics. However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at.”
At 9.46pm, the Irish team was led out by Artane paracyclist Cathal Miller. Though not all of the 49 athletes took part in the parade – many of them are participating in their opening events today and tomorrow – the reception they got as they entered the stadium shook the place. They will compete across 10 different sports over the coming 12 days from athletics to cycling, from table tennis to boccia. A medal haul of at least five with three golds is the base expectation. “We are not heroes,” tweeted world champion cyclist Colin Lynch as they took their place in line. “We don’t come here to inspire you. We come to race and perchance to win. We are first and foremost human beings.”
Human beings who will spend the next 12 days trying to beat each other into the ground. There will be 503 medal events in 21 different sports and each has the same thing in common – nobody gets a medal for coming fourth. It was a theme touched on by Seb Coe, chairman of the London 2012 organising committee in his speech.
“Sport is about what you can do,” he said. “It’s about what you can overcome, the limits you can reach, the barriers you can break. Sport shows what is possible. Sport refuses to take no for an answer. And everything sport stands for, we are going to see right here, right now. Everything sport stands for, we are going to experience with these Paralympic Games.”
The night ended with soul singer Beverly Knight leading the crowd in a rendition of I Am What I Am.