Stephen Hawking will help open ‘Inspirational’ Paralympics in London
The Paralympic torch was on Wednesday being carried through London towards the Olympic Park after an overnight relay through the countryside of southern England.
The torch is to visit landmarks such as the Abbey Road crossing made famous by the Beatles, Lord’s Cricket Ground, and London Zoo as it heads towards the Park in time for Queen Elizabeth II to officially open the Games in a ceremony at 1930 GMT.
The Paralympic torch was lit at the spiritual home of disabled sport — Stoke Mandeville — on Tuesday evening and sent on a 92-mile (148-kilometre) journey southeast carried by 116 teams of five people.
The queen was due to formally open the Games during a spectacular called “Enlightenment”, billed as a “celebration of the inspirational spirit of the Paralympic Games that challenges perceptions of human possibility”.
The British Paralympic Association (BPA) said earlier this year that the ceremony would be “groundbreaking in its inclusivity and innovative staging”, showcasing deaf and disabled artists.
The ceremony has been created by artistic directors Jenny Sealey and Bradley Hemmings, both of whom have a long history of hosting live shows involving disabled performers.
More than 3,000 adults will be among the cast, as well as over 100 children and 100-plus professional performers, while “Aerobility”, a British charity that trains disabled people to become pilots, will perform a fly-past, the BPA said.
The traditional curtain-raiser to 11 days of elite disability sport comes as the Games have been hailed as the biggest and most-high profile Paralympics since the inaugural edition in Rome in 1960.
A record 4,200 athletes, including an unprecedented number of women, are due to take part in 20 sports, with the event a near sell-out for the first time and due to be broadcast to millions worldwide.
Organisers believe much of the interest has come after a successful Olympics for British athletes, which saw the host nation finish third in the overall medal table behind the United States and China.
Britain is also considered the “spiritual home” of the Paralympics, as the first recognised sports events for athletes with disabilities was held in Stoke Mandeville in 1948.
The sporting action begins on Thursday, with shooting set to provide the first gold of the Games in the women’s 10m standing air rifle.
Medals are also up for grabs in the velodrome with the finals of the men and women’s individual pursuit, in four weight categories in judo at the ExCel Arena and at the Aquatics Centre, where 15 swimming finals are to be held.
The showpiece athletics programme gets under way on Friday, with the highlight Oscar Pistorius, who is seeking to defend his T44 100m, 200m and 400m titles from Beijing four years ago.
Pistorius, dubbed the “Blade Runner” because he runs on carbon fibre blades, made history earlier this month by becoming the first double-amputee to compete in the Olympics, when he ran in the 400m heats and 4x400m relay final.
But on Tuesday he played down expectations of repeating his Beijing treble, with Britain’s world-record holder Jonnie Peacock and world champion Jerome Singleton of the United States likely to feature in the 100m final.
“It’s important to note that I haven’t run a 100m personal best in five years. It’s not really my event,” he told a news conference, adding that he would “be happy” with a medal of any colour in the blue riband sprint.