Paralympics opening ceremony is an 'uncompromising' triumph

Aug 30, 2012

Professor Stephen Hawking narrates three-hour science spectacular topped off by Ian Dury's Spasticus Autisticus

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THE LONDON 2012 Paralympics were officially opened by the Queen last night in a spectacular ceremony featuring Professor Stephen Hawking and actor Sir Ian McKellen, and the arrival of the Paralympic flame by zipwire

There wasn't a spare seat in the Olympic Stadium as 80,000 spectators listened to Games organiser Sebastian Coe say, "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 Paralympic flag was carried into the stadium by the British under-22 wheelchair basketball team before the Queen – minus Daniel Craig and the corgis this time around - declared the Games officially underway. It was the culmination of a three-hour gala that organisers wanted to be "both spectacular and deeply human".

The BBC commented that there were similarities between the Olympics opening ceremony and the Paralympics' version, "with roles for Shakespeare's Tempest and Tom Heatherwick's cauldron, as well as royals, flags and a parade of elite athletes", but that last night's festival "was more nuanced in its celebration of elite sport. A celebration of diversity. But no less of a celebration for that".

The Daily Telegraph made much of Professor Hawking's role as the ceremony's narrator, quipping that it must have been the "brightest, busiest lecture he can ever have conducted".

The aim of Bradley Hemmings and Jenny Sealey, the ceremony's artistic directors, wasn't to imitate Danny Boyle's Olympic opening by telling the story of Great Britain, added the Telegraph. "Their reach was wider, the aim to triumph in the human spirit, celebrate the possibilities that lie within us all. This is what the ceremony was trying to do: point out that the limits of endeavour are merely territory as yet unexplored."

The Guardian said that the theme of the evening was enlightenment and the ceremony "cast the spotlight on the role of science in helping to change social attitudes" towards the disabled.

The "uncompromising climax" of the ceremony, explained the paper, was a performance of Ian Dury's Spasticus Autisticus by members of the Graeae Theatre during which a giant recreation of Marc Quinn's sculpture of a naked disabled mother appeared in the centre of the stadium, all of which "left no doubt about why we were here – and about how far we have come since Ludwig Guttmann, the Silesian neurosurgeon who arrived in England as a refugee from Hitler, identified the possibility of using sport to aid the recovery of paralysed servicemen and women who had previously been considered beyond salvation".

The Independent approved of the way in which the Paralympic flame was delivered into the stadium by Joe Townsend, who lost both his legs after stepping on a landmine in Afghanistan. Hailing the moment as "a stunning finale", the paper described how the Royal Marine Commando "hurtled into the stadium on a zip wire from the 376-foot-tall Orbit tower overlooking the Paralympic venue". The honour of lighting the cauldron belonged to 84-year-old former archer Margaret Maughan, winner of Britain's first ever Paralympics gold medal at Rome in 1960.

The evening, concluded the Independent, was "a triumphant celebration of humankind's ability to overcome seemingly impossible odds, in a ceremony aiming to alter the world's perception of disability".

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