Paralympic torch to be lit at ‘spiritual home’
The London Paralympic flame will be created on Tuesday at the spiritual home of disabled sport, signifying the start of a 24-hour torch relay before the start of this year’s Games.
The head of the International Paralympic Committee, Philip Craven, London organising committee chief Sebastian Coe and other dignitaries will be at Stoke Mandeville Stadium in southern England for the ceremony.
Joining them will be Eva Loeffler, whose father Ludwig Guttmann organised the first recognised sporting event for disabled athletes in 1948, giving birth to the Paralympic movement and the creation of the first Games 12 years later.
The London Paralympic Flame will be created out of four “national flames” that have been kindled by scouts on the four highest peaks in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
It will then be carried overnight from the world-famous centre for spinal injuries 148 kilometres to the British capital and past major landmarks such as the Houses of Parliament and the Tower of London.
Queen Elizabeth II is due to open the Games at a ceremony on Wednesday evening, signalling the start of 10 days of competition involving some 4,200 athletes.
The 1948 Stoke Mandeville Games were organised by Guttmann, a German Jewish neurologist who fled the Nazis, and involved just 16 competitors in wheelchairs, all of them second world war veterans with spinal injuries.
They were timed to coincide with the first post-war Olympics in London the same year and became so popular they were repeated annually, with the first international event in 1952, when a team of Dutch veterans came to compete.
Guttmann managed to convince organisers of the 1960 Rome Olympics to allow 400 wheelchair athletes from 23 countries to compete in a “parallel” event and the Paralympics were born
The doctor died in 1980 and his daughter, now 79, said he would have been proud of how disabled sport had developed, with the London Olympics even seeing its first double-amputee competitor in South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius.
Pistorius – dubbed the “Blade Runner” because he runs on carbon fibre prosthetics – made the semi-final of the men’s 400m and the final of the 4x400m relay.
He is set to defend his Paralympic T44 100m, 200m and 400m titles at the London Games, which a near sell-out for the first time, and whose mascot is called Mandeville in tribute to where it all began.
Loeffler, who has been made honourary mayor of the Athletes’ Village in east London, said: “As early as 1956 he (her father) said, ‘I dream of the time when disabled people will take part in the Olympic Games’.
“No-one but he could have made a statement like that in 1956. It was very far-fetched but his dream has come true. I think he would be immensely proud.”