‘I am what I am.” It could be the defining mantra of these Paralympic Games. It should be the defining credo of all disabled people. It was the final song of the opening ceremony of the 14th Paralympic Games performed with such lung-busting enthusiasm that it surely must have been heard the world over.
The Paralympics was declared open with a show that cost considerably less than that of the Olympics. Wednesday night’s celebrations cost £8million (R106.4m), £19m cheaper than Danny Boyle’s unforgettable romp through British history and music, but was no less special or memorable.
London put on a show for the ages, again. They did those who are differently abled such justice that Rio, who will be the hosts in 2016, must have sat back and cursed gently to themselves.
They could not top this. They would be silly if they tried to.
This is where disabled sport first began, a system of rehabilitation at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, where a competition for the disabled was held at the same time as the 1948 Olympics in London. It was the parallel Olympics then, and remains so.
“The Games are returning to the country where they first began more than 60 years ago,” said Queen Elizabeth in her welcoming speech. “We look forward to celebrating the uplifting spirit which distinguishes the Paralympic Games from other events, drawing on Britain’s unique sporting heritage.”
How right did Her Majesty get it. The London organisers managed to combine emotion with science. Oscar Pistorius may be the superstar of world disabled sport, but Professor Stephen Hawking remains the most famous disabled man in the world.
He was diagnosed with motor neurone disease at the age of 21 and was told he would not live to see 23.
Hawking is now 70 and last night introduced the audience to the central theme of the opening ceremony, Miranda, a character from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Rihanna’s Umbrella signalled the arrival of Miranda, who was encouraged by Hawking to “look up at the stars, and not down at your feet… be curious.”
He reminded the world of the importance of knowledge: “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.” There was no pretence at the opening ceremony.
We saw Paralympians fly in the stadium on golden wheelchairs, watched acrobats perform circus tricks high above the ground and were fascinated by a depiction of the Hadron Collider, searching for the meaning of life.
And in between all this, where the athletes, walking, wheeling and limping in, in all their glory. And there was Pistorius, marching ahead of the South Africans, his head held high, carrying the flag and lapping up the cheers from the 80 000 crowd.
It was a magnificent night. Now for the athletes. It will be a magnificent Games.