London Paralympic flame to start Games torch relay


Wed, Aug 29, 2012 - Page 20

The London 2012 Paralympic flame was to be created yesterday at the spiritual home of disabled sport, signifying the start of a 24-hour torch relay before the start of this year’s Paralympic Games today.

International Paralympic Committee head Philip Craven, London organizing committee chief Sebastian Coe and other dignitaries were scheduled to be at Stoke Mandeville Stadium in southern England for the ceremony at 18:30pm GMT.

Joining them would be Eva Loeffler, whose father Ludwig Guttmann organized the first recognized sporting event for disabled athletes in 1948, giving birth to the Paralympic movement and the creation of the first Paralympic Games 12 years later.

The London 2012 Paralympic Flame was to 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 was scheduled to be carried overnight from the world-famous center for spinal injuries 148km 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 tonight, signaling the start of 10 days of competition involving about 4,200 athletes.

The 1948 Stoke Mandeville Games were organized by Guttmann, a German Jewish neurologist who fled the Nazis, and involved just 16 competitors in wheelchairs, all of them World War II 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 also competed.

Guttmann managed to convince organizers 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 “Blade Runner” Pistorius.

Pistorius — dubbed the “Blade Runner” because he runs on carbon-fiber 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 is 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 honorary mayor of the Athletes’ Village in east London, said in an interview: “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,” Loeffler added.