Britain’s 300-strong Paralympic team were officially welcomed into the athletes’ Village last night, with a colourful ceremony witnessed by Games volunteers, officials and politicians, on the day before the Games are declared open.
A cast of 140 performers assembled by the National Youth Theatre put on a display of song and dance as many of the GB team members, plus support staff, were led by chef de mission Craig Hunter in a parade on the Village plaza.
Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, acting Paralympic Village Mayor and 11-time Paralympic gold medallist, told the athletes: “After years of early morning practice, after hours and hours of dedicated training, after all of the struggle and sacrifice your time has come.
“We are so excited that you are finally here and can’t wait to experience the extraordinary talent, excitement and pride you will bring to our city and everyone in our country.
“Through these Games we want to inspire lasting change across the world. You as athletes can help us to achieve this.”
Referring to the founder of the Paralympic Games, Ludwig Guttmann, she said; “He would be immensely proud of you all. You are his legacy.”
The 30-minute welcome ceremony celebrated Britain’s two Elizabethan ages and featured dancers dressed in Elizabethan ruffs and urban street-wear. The cast have performed the ceremony 42 times for teams arriving at the Olympic Park.
Among the British athletes present was Di Coates, the shooter who will be taking part in a record-equalling eighth Games. Coates, 54, from Hampshire, will begin competition tomorrow morning so will miss the Opening Ceremony, scheduled to end late tonight.
“There’s no Opening Ceremony for me so this was my Opening Ceremony,” she said. “It was very different to what I’ve ever seen before.”
Coates, who has seven medals and has won three Paralympic titles, added: “There’s only one thing to go for and that’s the gold. My expectations are still the same. You always want to same thing, although every [Games] is different.”
Archer Mel Clarke from Worcester thoroughly enjoyed the display, saying: “It was absolutely awesome, especially coming down and seeing everyone along the bank cheering. The noise was phenomenal.
“It was definitely an experience I will never forget.”
As the athletes gathered at the Village, the 24-hour Torch Relay of the Paralympic Flame began in Stoke Mandeville. Thousands of people have turned out to welcome the Flame in the host city, as it makes its way to the Stadium for tonight’s Opening Ceremony.
The Flame, which will be carried by 580 torchbearers, arrived in London later than scheduled due to the late finish of the event at Stoke Mandeville, but organisers have confirmed they are making up time.
The Women’s Sports Magazine