They do things a little differently in the Paralympics. While the Olympic flame was lit in a sacred and overblown ceremony on Olympia in Greece and carried by a cast of thousands, the Paralympic torch was lit on four of the highest peaks in Great Britain by Boy Scouts on Wednesday.
At dawn, four groups of Boy Scouts, both able-bodied and disabled, climbed the peaks of Scafell Pike in England, Slieve Donard in Northern Ireland, Snowdon in Wales and Ben Nevis in Scotland, the highest point in the four entities that make up the United Kingdom. Instead of the sun, a parabolic mirror, high priestesses and choreographed dancing that were used to light the Olympic flame, the Boy Scouts used flints, dry grass and kindling.
It was an appropriate way to begin the journey to next week’s opening ceremony of the Paralympics, a no-nonsense and, admitted Lord Seb Coe, head of the London organising committee, difficult start to a Games. The trek up the Snowdon was not easy, said Coe, but, then, being a disabled athlete is not always easy.
“I think when people watch Paralympic sport, often for the first time – in a way that a lot of people watch Olympic sports for the first time – they are going to recognise this is something that 99 percent of the population cannot do,” said Coe.
“We have created a unique identity for the Paralympic torch relay which will be a celebration of courage, determination, inspiration and equality that every Paralympian represents. By creating the Welsh flame through human endeavour at the summit of Snowdon we will ensure that the spirit of Wales is represented in the Paralympic flame.”
The South African team of 62 touched down in London on Wednesday morning, a small part of the 2100 Paralympic athletes and officials expected at Heathrow on the day.
While the Paralympics is a much smaller operation than the Olympics in terms of competitors – there are 4 200 Paralympians from 165 nations – it is a larger logistical exercise because of the number of wheelchairs and prosthetics involved.
“It’s basic stuff,” said Pieter Badenhorst, Team South Africa’s chef de mission, and a former Paralympian himself. “Just getting on the plane was a challenge because there is usually a limited amount of people on wheelchairs that they can take. With Sascoc’s engagement with SAA, they made practical arrangements. They put additional crew on the plane for us, and also some of the coaches and managers were given specific safety training for the flight.”
The South African team settled into their quarters on Wednesday, with Kevin Paul, the gold-medal winning swimmer from Beijing, tweeting a picture of his room in the Olympic Village. Some of the athletes will be paying visits to the medical team upon arrival, with the ever-present threat of having picked up a cold on the flight over.
“The athletes have gone through a rigorous selection procedure, we are dealing with elite athletes here,” said Grace Hughes, the team’s chief physiotherapist. “We have had very few injuries, they are fit, but we have been giving them very strict strengthening programmes on their necks so they can carry all the medals they are going to win.” – The Star