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Amy Purdy (a link well worth following) dancing at the Rio Paralympics Opening Ceremony...

with a KUKA industrial robot...

in a stunning 3D-printed dress.

Their bring-the-house-down routine (including a samba from Amy that was able to wow Brazilians) suggested the theme of “disability meets technology”.

However, watching the athletes at Rio, and the many others all over the world that they inspire, we aren't seeing “disability” - just amazing ability.

If you like this, you might want to revisit...

[Breaking the Mold: The London 2012 Paralympics Opening Ceremony]

[London 2012: The Beautiful Games]

This 18-year old Middlesbrough teenager appeared on BBC Breakfast a short while back, and I can tell you that she has a smile that can light up your entire day.

Her name is Jade Jones, and she's a T54 wheelchair track athlete for Great Britain and the British record holder over 400/5000m.

She represented GB at the London 2012 Paralympics, and won the bronze medal in the women's para-sport 1500m in the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

The London 2012 Olympics were watched by a good proportion of the entire planet. The USA, however, largely missed out on the London 2012 Paralympics, due to a perceived or actual lack of interest by USA viewers (or maybe just by NBC), and so missed out on an extraordinary communal party that equalled or even eclipsed the Olympics.

The sheer feel-good factor of both events lifted the spirits of Britain (and maybe other countries) in a way that is good to look back on now. However the Paralympics also changed forever the view of “disability” for everyone who watched it.

I observed afterwards that the American political system (unlike very many American people) seems to suffer more than most from disability, dysfunction, negativity, under-achievement, non-cooperation and meanness of spirit - the exact opposite of what we watched, especially in the Paralympics.

There has been so much to enjoy in the recent Commonwealth Games, not least the fact that normal and para events have been integrated. It seems quite normal (at least to UK audiences) now. The larger Olympics, at least in 2016, won't be able to integrate the events in this way, but only because (I have heard) they would simply become too large.

The Olympics and Paralympics were the best thing to happen in Britain (IMO) in 2012, and perhaps for many years to come. Because of this, I put a lot of effort into recording the events, with images, commentary and links to some great music, for my own benefit and maybe for others who missed out:

The short version (from my web site):

[The beautiful games]

The full versions (linked to from the short version):

[Olympics opening ceremony]
[International inspiration to young people: Jessica Ennis and Denise Lewis]
[The fabulous Olympics closing ceremony]
[The stunning Paralympics opening ceremony (visit this, if nothing else!)]
[Royal Mail commemorative stamps, one for each paralympic gold medal winner (with links to each winner featured)]
[My review of the Paralympics, and the closing ceremony]

From the page...

On 23 November 2012, Gerry Pennell will leave the job of a lifetime. Four years after signing up as CIO for the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics, his IT team has won every technology gold medal going after successfully supporting the most connected Games ever. But even such a good thing must come to an end...

Go here if you want to read more about the IT background to the success of arguably the world's greatest Olympics and Paralympics (so far), and here if you have a special interest in the role that the principle of sustainability played in all of that.

The London 2012 Paralympics

“Beijing was the first Paralympic Games where we were treated as equals. London was the first Paralympic Games where we were treated as heroes.”

Everyone who watched these amazing Games will have their own memories... Here are a few of mine:

Hannah Cockroft, golden girl of the Paralympics, delightful and bubbly off the track, a fearsomely unbeatable opponent on it...

David Weir, the "Weir Wolf"

One of the most memorable moments of "Super Thursday" was when Jonnie Peacock asked the crowd for silence at the start, and 80,000 people went silent as in a church within about a second. After which, this man (who happens to have only one leg, although we have sort of stopped noticing that) ran 100m in 10.9 seconds, beating probably the best group of 100m athletes ever seen in one Paralympics final.

The blind runner Libby Clegg and her great guide/partner (actually a photo from her silver medal win at Beijing)...

...and winning the Gold in London

From this article: Derek Derenalagi, the British discus thrower whose legs were blown apart five years ago by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, drank in the moving warmth of the sustained applause as he entered the Olympic Stadium for Friday night’s competition.

Sadly for his own aspirations of a medal, he could finish only 11th from a impressively strong field. Derenalagi’s longest throw of 39.37 metres, yielding 771 points, was comfortably adrift of the benchmark set by Russia’s Alexey Asapatov, whose effort of 56.19m equated to 977 points.

The 37 year-old, born in Fiji, had been desperate to mount the podium but recognised that his mere appearance here verged on miraculous. In 2007, he had been lying dead on an operating table at Camp Bastion, before a member of medical staff detected a pulse.

In the five years that ensued he helped galvanise public support for those seriously wounded in the service of the country. He was pivotal, indeed, in the creation of Help for Heroes after the charity’s founders, Emma and Bryn Parry, visited him at Selly Oak Hospital and found themselves moved by his dignity in the face of extreme adversity.

“It was devastating for both of us to see somebody so injured when we visited him in hospital,” Emma Parry remembered. “But to see him five years later, having battled everything to get through to the Paralympics, is absolutely extraordinary.”

His resolve to reach the Paralympics was forged in the grimmest of those hospital days. Watching the Beijing Games from his bed, he decided that his ambition was to wear Britain’s colours at London 2012 and worked indefatigably at identifying his strongest sport, the discus. His specialist prostheses have been built to be especially resilient to withstand the force of his throwing action.

Derek as he was in Afghanistan

One of many warm moments in the Paralympics as Ellie Simmonds, our "pocket rocket" in the swimming pool, shares the rostrum with her great friend and rival Victoria Arlen from the USA (the medals were the other way around in a previous race, but the friendship is just the same)

Channel 4 did a great job. As well as covering the Paralympics, they did a great job in promoting these Games ("Thanks for the warm up" was their cheeky salute to the London Olympics) and making them a real turning point in people's view of disability.

One of their advertisements was probably the best of its kind every produced - see here.

Channel 4's review before the actual Closing Ceremony added some more memories (these are my screenshots from their coverage):

For many people, Clare Balding (transferring from the BBC) and Ade Adepitan, the unfailingly cheerful gold medal-winning wheelchair basketball player, were the main faces of Channel 4's presentation team. They were joined by many other really good presenters... of whom was Giles Long, who won Paralympic Swimming gold 1996 and 2000. Giles (Clare told us) was the guy who recognized that to the viewing public, classification is the only barrier to enjoying paralympic sport at its full.

Giles invented LEXI, the Lexicon Decoder, which made such a difference to our understanding. Giles said that it took him 6 months to crack the classification system just in swimming, then another 2 years or so to get it right.

Oscar Pistorius, the South African super-athlete, a gentleman and a true ambassador for the paralympics

Brazilian blind 100m runner and guide, two of many Brzilians celebrating

"... it's a pretty safe bet that the party will continue in Rio 2016"

David Weir with son Mason after winning the Marathon [Link]

Another warm moment, as the German Jochen Wollmert comforts GB table tennis player Will Bayley, after beating him in the final. Jochen previously won many hearts by over-ruling the umpire who mistakenly awarded Jochen a point against Will, and then won them again in this moment.

In another match, astonishingly dynamic play as a so-called "disabled" table tennis player hurls himself to the right, the ball whistling back over the table to the left for a winner...

Running blind with a partner involves total trust and a unique form of partnership


...and tears

In some ways this didn't seem the most important aspect of the games... but it's a source of huge pride for many people in many countries

The actual Closing Ceremony, after the magnificent Opening Ceremony (see my article here), was a little disappointing to me and (I have read) to some others. It contained some great stuff (see below and this great set of pictures), but a large part of it consisted of a concert by Coldplay, joined by Rihanna, where Paralympians and disabled people were an audience rather than participants (a link on that here).

However, there was still much to enjoy (including Coldplay's music). These are my screenshots from Channel 4's coverage:

The opening film sequence featured the gathering of some fantastical steampunk vehicles who will appear later in the Arena...

(A great picture of this wonderful vehicle will be found about half-way down this page)

We had our first sight of disabled aerial performers from Circus Space

In the Stadium, the "Festival of Fire" gets off to a great start...

Captain Luke Sinnot, who lost his legs and an arm in a blast on the battlefields of Helmand, climbs The Flagpole of Human Endeavour [Link]

Luke is a keen sailor aiming for Rio 2016, with a boat funded by Help for Heroes (whose members featured strongly in this sequence)

A Royal Vehicle like no other, cobbled together from a 1930's gangster car and a military vehicle used in Afghanistan

Lance Corporal Rory Mackenzie, a very impressive individual, welcoming people to the Festival of Fire.

Rory is a 26 year old South African, who served in the British Army as a Combat Medical Technician - his own story can be read here

Entry of the flags..

...tonight, all the 4,259 athletes are here

One of many steampunk vehicles. Paralympians customize their own vehicles, for both performance and individuality. These fantastical vehicles, some huge, were constructed from materials found in dumps and old cars and trucks.

A group of 6 paralympian athletes from different countries (France, Turkey, USA, Spain, Netherlands and Hong Kong China, elected by all the athletes to join the IPC Athletics Council, who will play a big role in advancing the paralympic movement...

...joined by representatives of the amazing volunteer Games Makers, who received immense applause on several occasions tonight...

...a moment symbolically bringing together people with and without disabilities who have already done much to change the world

Entry of "disabled" aerial performers from Circus Space...

Mat Fraser, who has short arms because he was born with phocomelia, drummed with Coldplay for their song God Put A Smile Upon Your Face

The British Paraorchestra is a new orchestra created by the conductor Charles Hazlewood and composed of 17 performers with disabilities – including a one-handed pianist and an electronic musician with such severe cerebral palsy that she requires 24-hour care - joining Coldplay and playing the Paralympic Anthem [video links]

Handover of the Paralympian Flag between the mayors of London and Rio

Lord Seb Coe, father of the London Olympic Games, equally committed to the London Paralympics. In a brief, heartfelt speech he shared a story about a doctor, one of the Games Makers, whom he met while on the way to a boxing event:

“...After a very British dance about who should thank whom, he suddenly cut through the politeness and told me: I was on duty on 7/7, that awful day. For me, this is closure. I wasn't sure I should come, or whether I could face it. I'm so glad I did, for I have seen the worst of mankind, and now I have seen the best of mankind.”

He also shared a story about a wheelchair basketball athlete who told him that the sport had "lifted the cloud of limitation" for her. He said that in this country we would never think of sport the same way, we would never think of disability the same way, and that the paralympians had, indeed, lifted the cloud of limitation.

His thanks to these people and to all of the volunteer Games Makers drew extraordinary applause, which also honoured Seb Coe himself

Sir Philip Craven, President of the International Paralympic Committee. a British former Paralympic athlete, praised all those who brought these Games to London and who made it successful, with very special thanks - again - to the thousands of Games Makers, the British Armed Services, and the Emergency Services.

He told a story from his own family about a 5-year old boy, whose friend was reading a book featuring a picture of a man with a parrot, an eye-patch and a wooden leg. She asked him who it was, expecting him to say "a pirate". Instead he replied: "Well, he only has one leg. He must be an athlete."

“Kids just get it. Now thanks to the amazing performances we have seen here, we all do.”

Jonnie Peacock and Ellie Simmonds extinguishing the Paralympic Flame...

...but the spirit moves on...

There followed more music (with the Olympic Stadium's pixel system providing its stunning light show) from Coldplay, Rihanna and Jay Z, and of course a firework finale - pictures of all of which can be found here and here - but the essence of the Paralympics had already been conveyed.

As record audiences and visitors watched the London 2012 Paralympics, while the Presidential race continued to run in the USA (where the Paralympics have received relatively little coverage) I was struck by a strange contrast.

It seems at times that the American political system (unlike very many American people) suffers more than most from disability, dysfunction, negativity, under-achievement, non-cooperation and meanness of spirit.

The exact opposite is what we have been watching in the amazing events going on in London.

Maybe we can all learn something from this wonderful group of international athletes...

[More links for the London 2012 Paralympics Closing Ceremony]
[All of my posts on the London 2012 Paralympics]
[All of my posts on the London 2012 Olympics]

If you happen to be a Brit watching these amazing Paralympics, you will obviously be delighted with our great run of gold medals.

The Royal Mail earned its own award from me (FWIW) by issuing commemorative stamps within a day of each medal, exactly as it did for the London Olympics.

This may not be surprising to people following the London Paralympics, but for everyone it's an indication of how successful these Games have been in changing perceptions about "disability". We haven't seen disability in these Games - just amazing ability. The "Super Thursday" athletics track finals produced the kind of excitement that the equivalent finals in the Olympics did. The only difference was that the excitement (and noise) on that occasion was even more intense than in the Olympics. I say "noise", but one of the most memorable moments of that night was when Jonnie Peacock asked the crowd for silence at the start, and 80,000 people went silent as in a church within about a second. After which, this man (who happens to have only one leg, although we have sort of stopped noticing that) ran 100m in 10.9 seconds, beating probably the best group of 100m athletes ever seen in one Paralympics final.

There are some great stories of human achievement hidden behind these pictures - if you click on any image, you'll get links that will tell you more about that athlete.

Several athletes (like Sarah Storey, our greatest paralympian) won several gold medals and each one was commemorated with a separate stamp - I haven't shown all of those here, and I may have missed some of the team events.

Also, there have been many athletes from other countries, and/or who haven't won a gold medal, or any medal, that have won the hearts of the many people watching - see my post here.

[Images sourced from here]

If you like this...

[All of my posts on the London 2012 Paralympics]
[All of my posts on the London 2012 Olympics]

On August 29th, a peak audience of 11.2m watched Channel 4's coverage of the London 2012 Paralympics Opening Ceremony (from which my screenshots are taken), which was the biggest C4 audience in 10 years.

The ceremony featured some great and inspirational music. You can find the full event playlist here, and in what follows I provide some links to videos of the music, in some cases taken from the event itself (don't miss the last one!).

However you thought the opening ceremony of a Paralympics Games might start, it probably wasn't like this...

As the stadium became a Nebula, Professor Stephen Hawking, probably our greatest living physicist, invited us all to stretch our minds and our conceptions:

“Ever since the dawn of civilization, people have craved for an understanding of the underlying order of the world: why it is as it is, and why it exists at all.

“But, even if we do find a complete theory of everything, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations, and makes a Universe for him to describe?”

...a question that introduced a symbolic Big Bang...

...featuring the British umbrella motif that returns again and again, quirky and effective

Specially trained volunteers, many of them disabled, take to the air in an aerial dance to Rihanna's "Umbrella" [video links]

...introducing (from the air) Shakespeare's Miranda, played by the disabled radio actress Nicola Miles-Wildin, who will be led through a journey of discovery and enlightenment by Prospero, played by Sir Ian McKellen (whom the world will probably always see as Gandalf)

A sequence featuring The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the first article of which is so relevant to this occasion

After the official opening by the Queen, and the entry of over 4,200 paralympians into the stadium (less a few with early events the next day)...

Let spirits soar… the blind soprano Denise Leigh and deaf actor Deepa Shastri bring the Paralympic motto – Spirit in Motion – to life in an original composition by Errollyn Wallen [video of this segment]

Lord Seb Coe, father of the London Olympic Games, equally committed to the London Paralympics. He began by looking back to Doctor Ludwig Guttmann's achievement at Stoke Mandeville. Among his words:

“[In setting up these Olympics and Paralympics] we determined that London 2012 would be the next great advance for the [paralympic] movement... and a landmark for people with disability everywhere.

“To [the] athletes I say: You will hear us. The enthusiasm for these Paralympics is extraordinary. The crowds will be unprecedented. These will be games to remember. And to my fellow countrymen and the millions watching around the world I add these final words: Prepare to be inspired. Prepare to be dazzled. Prepare to be moved by the London Paralympic Games of 2012.”

Sir Philip Craven, President of the International Paralympic Committee. a British former Paralympic athlete and an obviously proud native of Bolton, Lancashire, said among other things:

“Tonight is a celebration of the development of the human spirit, a celebration of the Paralympic Movement coming home, and a celebration of dreams...

“In 1948 [Sir Ludwig Guttmann] organized the Stoke Mandeville Games, on a small piece of land sandwiched between the back of the hospital and the railway embankment...

“Most importantly, welcome to you, over 4,200 paralympians... you have before you some of the finest sporting stages on which to perform. Every step of the way you will be cheered on by the most passionate sports fans that you will have ever seen or heard. Your performances will inspire and excite the world. You will inspire not only a current generation here, but many generations to come. With record ticket sales, media and broadcasters, your stories and performances will challenge the way people think about themselves and how they think about others. You are all catalysts for change, and role models for an inclusive society. ... You not only have the ability to win medals in London, but you have the ability to change the world.... and remember... make sure you have fun!”

Eight members of the British under-22 wheelchair basketball team starting the ceremony of the raising of the Paralympic flag, to Elgar's Jupiter Suite from The Planets. The music was chosen as a universal anthem to inspire people from whichever country they may come from. [video links]

In an extraordinarily beautiful sequence, soprano Elin Manahan Thomas sings Handel's Eternal Source of Life Divine - absolutely wonderful [video links]

...and to that glorious music we were treated to a wonderful aerial ballet by six paralympic athletes (I am filled with admiration for everyone in this event who performed at what must have been a dizzying height)

This was followed by an equally inspiring segment where Birdy played Bird Gerhl (written by Antony Hegarty) [video links]

...while David Toole, later joined by Miranda, performs another wonderful dance that rises into the air.

The C4 coverage didn't show everything else going on at the same time, but you'll find another view if you follow the video links above.

Stephen Hawking introduced a section featuring the Large Hadron Collider, symbolically transformed into a collision of ideas.
I shall always remember these words of his:

“We are all different. There is no such thing as a standard or run-of-the-mill human being but we share the same human spirit.

“What is important is that we have the ability to create. This creativity can take many forms, from physical achievement to theoretical physics. However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at.”

This section featured a raw performance of Ian Dury's angry Spasticus Autisticus (once banned by the BBC). It seemed to fit in perfectly, perhaps because you have to face reality before you can make the world a better place (a good link here).

Royal Marine Commando Joe Townsend brings the Paralympic Torch into the arena via zip wire from the Orbit Tower, more than 350 feet up...

Only 5 months ago he was in Afghanistan, where he lost both legs to an IED. He hopes to compete as a paralympic triathlete in Rio.

Possibly the most amazing and inspiring handover of a torch ever seen (so far). This image is so extraordinary that you might think it has been photoshopped, but Joe is suspended, perfectly still, by wires from very far above. Joe handed over the torch to blind footballer David Clarke...

...and that beautiful cauldron was actually lit by Margaret Maughan, the oldest paralympian, who won gold in archery 52 years ago. She was treated by Doctor Ludwig Guttmann at Stoke Mandeville after a car accident in 1959, who introduced her to archery.

It's hard to think of a more uplifting, appropriate and inspiring climax than "I Am What I Am" performed by Beverley Knight (accompanied by Caroline Parker & Lizzie Emeh). You can watch it here - don't miss it!

...which turned the packed Olympic Stadium into one huge party... the centre of which stood the giant version of Marc Quinn's Alison Lapper Pregnant, the sculpture of the limbless woman that once looked down from the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square (see this excellent article).

This amazing ceremony has proved to the the beginning of an equally inspiring Paralympic Games, still going on as this is written (more posts to come!). In Britain, and in other countries whose broadcasters are giving them access, the Olympic party is happening all over again.

Disability? What we are watching in these Paralympics is ability, in spades.

[More links for the London 2012 Paralympics Opening Ceremony]
[All of my posts on the London 2012 Paralympics]
[All of my posts on the London 2012 Olympics]

From my web site:

[The beautiful games]

The South African athlete Oscar Pistorius running using Össur’s Flex-Foot Cheetahs

Oscar is currently competing in the London 2012 Paralympic Games, having previously competed against able-bodied athletes in the London 2012 Olympic Games.

The controversy over Oscar's potentially unfair advantage over able-bodied athletes (now resolved) would, I am sure, have given Doctor Ludwig Guttmann, the amazing human being who pioneered athletic competition for disabled people, enormous pleasure.

Doctor Gutmann's story was recently told in an excellent (and very moving) BBC documentary called The Best of Men.

(It appears that the USA, thanks to poor broadcasting coverage there, is missing out on the current Paralympic Games, which are like no other such games in the past. They are being every bit as inspiring and popular as the London 2012 Olympic Games - possibly even more inspiring. The view of disability in this country, and in all countries watching, will never be the same again. Further posts to come!)

Indescribably wonderful...

[The London 2012 London Paralympics Opening Ceremony]