London Opens 2012 Paralympic Games
By Laura Smith-Spark
LONDON (CNN) — Thousands of athletes and many more spectators have gathered in London Wednesday for the opening of the 2012 Paralympic Games, set to be the biggest ever held.
Over the course of the 11-day event, some 4,280 athletes from 165 countries — more than ever before — will compete in 21 sports, with more than 500 gold medals up for grabs.
The opening ceremony, titled “Enlightenment,” features a cast of more than 3,000 adult volunteers, 100 children and more than 100 professional performers, as well as the traditional athletes’ parade.
Five-time U.S. Paralympian Scott Danberg has been selected as flag bearer to lead the 227-member U.S. Paralympic Team into the Olympic Stadium, in east London.
The Paralympic flame will be carried into the stadium to light the cauldron at the climax of the show.
The torch set off on a 24-hour relay Tuesday evening from Stoke Mandeville in Buckinghamshire, the birthplace of the Paralympic movement, and reached London Wednesday morning.
Thousands of people lined the streets to see the Paralympic torch relay wend its way through the capital on its way to the Olympic Park.
The torchbearers included Paralympians, people who have overcome disability to achieve their goals and local heroes nominated by their communities.
The relay route passed many iconic London sites, including Westminster Abbey, London Zoo, Tower Bridge and Abbey Road, where the torchbearers recreated the iconic Beatles album cover shot.
The Agitos, the symbol of the Paralympic Games, has replaced the five rings that were suspended from Tower Bridge during the Olympic Games.
And excitement levels are again rising in Britain and worldwide, with more than 2.3 million Paralympic tickets sold and huge numbers around the globe expected to watch the events on television and online.
“The Paralympic Games have come home to Britain — and it will be the biggest Games yet, with more athletes, more countries and more spectators than ever before,” said Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
“The talent, commitment and inspiration of the Torchbearers, and ParalympicsGB, reminds us all what can be achieved when we focus on what people can do, rather than what they can’t.”
Stoke Mandeville Hospital is seen as the spiritual home of the Games because it was there that German neurologist Dr. Ludwig Guttmann revolutionized the treatment of paraplegics post-World War II, including introducing sport as part of their rehabilitation programs.