Carnival atmosphere as Paralympics get underway

The opening night of the London 2012 Paralympics saw the Queen officially open the Games and world renowned British scientist Stephen Hawking challenging athletes to look to the stars, in front of an 80,000 strong crowd.

Carnival atmosphere as Paralympics get underway

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Athletes attend the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympic Games in the Olympic Stadium

Less than three weeks after the impressive London 2012 Olympics came to its conclusion, the Paralympics are now underway following an opening night which saw thousands of dancers performing and a stunning fireworks display adding to the good cheer in front of an audience of 80,000 fans.

Celebrated physicist Stephen Hawking took to the stage during the ceremony and urged athletes to "look to the stars" during what is set to be record-breaking Paralympics Games over the coming 11 days at virtually sold-out venues.

Hawking, diagnosed with motor neurone disease at the age of 21 and told in 1963 he had two years to live, is an inspiration to millions around the world and the Paralympic Games provide a platform for similar heroes to emerge.

The London Paralympics will host the biggest number of athletes since their official birth in 1960 at the Rome Games, with 4,280 competitors representing 164 nations compared to 400 participants from 23 countries in the Italian capital.

South Africa's Oscar Pistorius, who became the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics earlier in August, and was a flag-bearer for the Paralympics opening, told media on Wednesday that he had seen a shift in interest towards disabled sport.

"Up to 2004 I didn't know much about Paralympics. The biggest turnout we had was maybe 20,000. Usually around 7,000 a day," said Pistorius, who runs using carbon-fibre prosthetic blades after he was born without a fibula in both legs.

"The UK deal with disability in a really amazing way. There are a lot of people who don't focus on the disability any more, they focus on the athletes' abilities. They're treated as elite sportsmen and women," added the 25-year-old.

The rising interest in the Paralympics has been reflected in ticket sales, with a record 2.4 million of the available 2.5 million sold, and the remaining 100,000 to be released in batches of 10,000 each day.

More than 50 percent of the tickets have been sold for £10 or less, according to LOCOG.

The opening ceremony saw Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II declare the Games open following a mammoth procession of athletes into the Olympic Stadium and International Paralympic Committee president Philip Craven's speech.

"What happens here has the energy to change every single one of us. Welcome to the record 164 committees who have brought with them the best athletes ever," stated Briton Craven as the world’s sporting community once again focused on London.

Let battle commence!

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