Paralympic Opening Ceremony

Tonight’s event will open with the words ‘O wonder! How many goodly creatures there are here’ from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, as read by  actor Sir Ian McKellen, 73,  with a young actress playing the character of Miranda who will lead the audience through the ceremony. Six athletes will then ‘fly’ into tonight’s spectacular Paralympics opening ceremony in golden wheelchairs,  The dramatic scenes will be at the heart of the showpiece opening. Among those flying into the stadium in wheelchairs will be Britain’s greatest ever paralympian, 11-time champion Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, 43.

The ceremony, which is entitled Enlightenment, begins at 8.30pm and will kick-start 11 days of sport in front of unprecedented crowds – the event is on course to be the first sell-out Paralympic Games in history.Great Britain is hoping for a record haul of medals surpassing the 102 won in Beijing in 2008 as athletes are inspired by their home crowds, as happened during the Olympics. It is hoped that the Paralympics would be A ‘wonderful way to change the preconception of disabilities for good. Performers from The National Youth Theatre were also Flying the flag: as they marched through the streets surrounding the stadium in Stratford

The Opening Ceremony will also be a celebration of scientific achievements, and will include references to the Big Bang theory and the Large Hadron Collider, which earlier this year enabled physicists to confirm the existence of the Higgs Bosun or so-called  ‘God particle’ which gives all matter its mass.It will also feature world renowned scientist Professor Stephen Hawking. The 70-year-old Oxford-born academic, author of A Brief History Of Time,who is severely disabled from motor neurone disease  is said to be ‘thrilled’ to have been asked to take part in the ceremony and has filmed a pre-recorded message for spectators inside the Olympic Stadium.

A disabled dancer will also take part in tonight’s Paralympic Games opening ceremony despite falling out of her wheelchair and breaking her pelvis less than a week ago. Diana Morgan-Hill fell at her home on Sunday and even managed to make it through the dress rehearsal the same day along with 14 other wheelchair dancers.To help her get through the pain she is being given the drug Entonox, which is normally given to women in labour. Mrs Morgan-Hill, from Kensington, West London, danced with Boris Johnson for Strictly Come Dancing’s spin off, Dancing on Wheels, while filming with swimmer Mark Foster.According to her biography on the BBC she lost both her legs 19 years ago. She ran for a train but as she went to jump on board fell through the gap losing a leg.Her other leg was then run over by the train and she was electrocuted twice.

Others attending tonight include the Queen and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.Singers appearing will include blind soprano Denise Leigh, who performed four years ago in Beijing, and Beverley Knight, who officials say was chosen for her ‘stadium-filling voice’. The ceremony also features more than 3,000 volunteers, including 50 disabled performers who have been learning circus skills from scratch. The athletes will enter the stadium earlier than during the Olympics opening ceremony, sitting on the track to form part of the audience.

Lord Coe, head of London 2012, said: ‘the ceremony focuses on that extraordinary period in European history and the great intellectual revolution that took place between 1550 and 1720. Everything from Newton making sense of gravity and motion to Napier with logarithms and Harvey with blood circulation. ‘It’s really about ceilings, about human understanding, about limitations and the importance of knowledge. Local performers, including three East London disc jockeys, will also appear alongside international stars, and there will be a spectacular light display will be created by aeroplanes flown by disabled pilots.

A highlight near the show’s climax will come with the lighting of the Paralympic cauldron featuring athletes representing the past, present and future.Margaret Maughan, 84, a veteran of five Paralympics, is expected to play a pivotal part. The winner of Britain’s first Paralympic gold medal when she became archery champion at the inaugural 1960 Rome games, she has been unable to walk following a car accident in 1959. A teacher, she also won gold in the backstroke in Rome – her victory was almost guaranteed because she was the only competitor in the event – and competed in four further Paralympics, winning four more medals, including two golds. It is understood she will be joined during the lighting ceremony by David Clarke, 32, captain of Britain’s football five-a-side team and the most experienced member of the squad, and 24-year-old triathlete Joe Townsend, a Royal Marine Commando, who lost his legs in a Taliban bombing in Afghanistan.Townsend has already competed in the Ironman UK triathlon, and has set his sights on qualifying for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro where the event will feature for the first time.Demand for tickets is expected to outstrip that of any previous Paralympics, with up to 215,000 spectators expected to visit the Olympic Park on most days.

Tribute to Ludwig Guttmann

Here is my tribute to the inspirational Jewish German neurosurgeon Sir Ludwig Guttmann, who saved many fellow Jews from Nazis before fleeing Germany and became the  founding father of the modern day Paralympics after WWII.

Born in the coal-mining district of Upper Silesia (now Poland) in 1899 to an orthodox Jewish family, he took a volunteer job at a local hospital for mining injuries when he was 18. He was particularly touched by the plight of one young miner he tended. This man had a fine physique but had broken his back in a mining accident.  He was paralysed from the waist down and the doctors held out no hope. The accepted method of treatment in those days was to encase patients in plaster and isolate them. They would die within weeks. This is what happened to that young man, who got a urinary infection and blood poisoning, and died within five weeks. Guttmann said later: ‘Although I saw many more victims suffering the same fate, it was the picture of that young man which remained indelibly fixed in my memory.’

After failing to find a job in paediatrics, he returned to Breslau and enrolled in the neurology and neurosurgery department. He continued at Freiburg, and developed an interest in physical training and sport.  By1933, Guttmann was director of Breslau’s Jewish hospital and gis growing reputation led to many offers to work abroad. He turned them all down — until Kristallnacht.

During Kristallnacht 1938,  Nazi stormtroopers unleashed their hatred on Jewish businesses, synagogues, shops and homes and arrested Up to 30,000 people across Germany who were then beaten, murdered or sent to concentration camps. So He instructed staff to admit Any traumatised Jews who turned up at his hospital that night, even if their injuries were too minor for an overnight stay. When the Gestapo arrived to round them up, he persuaded the officers that they were all too sick to leave, and in this way He saved 60 people from certain death in concentration camps.

He escaped Nazi Germany in 1939 and upon Arrival in the UK  He got a job a at the specialist Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury, Bucks. where he Led an inspirational initiative to treat people who had become paralysed during World War  II and although there were many who thought his ideas fanciful. He tirelessly argued, though, that with proper treatment paraplegics could live full and rewarding lives and made such an impression, that in September 1943 the government asked him  to open a centre for spinal injuries, anticipating a rise in patients after the planned D-Day landings against Germany.  He agreed on the condition he could implement his own treatment theories, and picked Stoke Mandeville for his base, taking up his post on February 1, 1944, and Sport was a critical part of the therapeutic programme he designed for his patients.

Before 1948, when Britain last hosted the Olympics, patients with severed spinal cords were rarely rehabilitated, let alone to the extent that could compete in sports. With no active life to look forward to and poor care, they contracted infections, gave up hope, and were usually dead within weeks or months.But World War II meant hospitals were flooded with servicemen who had suffered this type of injury and Dr Guttmann was a passionate believer in the power of sport to inspire and motivate and transformed many people’s perceptions of disabilities so he introduced an athletic competition in the grounds of the hospital to coincide with the London Olympics in 1948. His first event was wheelchair archery. Though only 16 competitors took part, including two women, the notion of paraplegics becoming athletes was ground-breaking. The archery competition at Stoke Mandeville was the precursor to the modern Paralympics, giving war veterans with terrible injuries strength and confidence

His games gave birth to the Paralympics, and  changed the course of thousands of lives after he opened a news sports stadium for disabled athletes on a site adjoining Stoke Mandeville Hospital, near Aylesbury, in 1969. Guttmann ended up inspiring thousands — and changing the way the nation thinks about paraplegics.