The London 2012 Paralympic Games were officially opened by the Queen last night in a spectacular ceremony featuring Professor Stephen Hawking and actor Sir Ian McKellen.
The event, just like the Olympic Opening Ceremony, was complete sold out and the 80,000 spectators were treated to a moving, inspiring and of course uniquely British affair. Sebastian Coe, the games organiser told the stadium and the world “Prepare to be inspired, prepare to be dazzled, prepare to be moved,” in anticipation of 11 days of competition involving 4,200 competitors from 164 countries.
The organisers of the ceremony wanted the event to be “both spectacular and deeply human” and the resounding reaction was that this was achieved. It was full of excitement, amazing feats and moving moments. One of the world’s most respected living scientists, Professor Stephen Hawking, acted as the ceremonies guide which came with a performance of Ian Dury’s Spasticus Autisticus by members of the Graeae Theatre Company and the appearance of a giant version of Marc Quinn’s Alison Lapper Pregnant, the sculpture of the limbless woman that once looked down from the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square. The ceremony culminated in the lighting of the 205 new petals of Tom Heatherwick’s cauldron, the flame swooping down from the top of Anish Kapoor’s Orbit Tower, carried on the last stage of its journey by a double amputee war veteran, and Paralympic athlete, attached to a zip wire.
There were many similarities between the two opening ceremonies, both were opened by the Queen (the first time a Head of State has officially opened both games), both featured the beautiful words and characters or Shakespeare’s The Tempest, both flames were used to light stunning Tom Heatherwick designed cauldrons, and both centred around the parades of the world’s faster, strongest and most skilled athletes.
However, last nights Opening Ceremony, was more that just a celebration of all things British like the “Isles of Wonder” performance. As the Queen and the country welcomed home the Paralympics “to the country where they first began, more than 60 years ago” the ceremony sent out a message to the world. The message was that the Paralympics are in no way the side show to the Olympics, in fact the organisers declared them the games for the ‘”Superhumans”.
Whilst records maybe be slower, shorter or not as colossal, the obstacles the Paralympians have overcome to achieve them are truly astounding. The ceremony used Miranda’s “Brave New World” speech from The Tempest which celebrates “how beauteous mankind is”. It shows that 60 years on from when Dr. Ludwig Guttmann began using sport to rehabilitate war veterans with long term disabilities, the world had learnt to disregarded such disabilities, to celebrate all of the beauty of mankind, as well as the inspiring lives that those with disabilities lead.
More than 60 years after the idea of the Paralympics was born in this very country, last night Britain redefined the games as a celebration of the beauty ofmankind, certainly doing the country that founded it and the superhuman athletes proud.