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Volume 6 No. 214
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The Paralympics Opening Ceremony Sets Itself Apart From Boyle's Production

The atmosphere, look and feel during the first day of Paralympic competition at the Olympic Park, as it is still called, felt "the same, but different," according to Owen Gibson of the London GUARDIAN. Despite all of the similarities, differences "became clear." Two new venues have been added, at Brands Hatch for road cycling and at Eton Manor for wheelchair tennis. In addition, the Paralympic Agitos have replaced the Olympic rings on all branding. Whereas the IOC has a "clean venues" policy for advertising, the Paralympic arenas are "plastered with corporate logos." Games sponsors pay extra for the exposure, such include Powerade and BT appearing on the basketball court, and Atos "on billboards alongside the pool or track." Meanwhile, the landscape of the Park "remains much the same." The "major difference to the operation" is a new ticketing policy, which was designed to make buying tickets attractive and to allow visitors to experience as many new sports as possible. LOCOG admitted that it "faced a new challenge in managing the flow of crowds" using multi-venue passes to avoid bottle necks and empty seats (GUARDIAN, 8/30).

HISTORY COMES ALIVE: In London, Richard Williams wrote "a nation that suffered a 'petite mort' at the end of the Olympic Games less than a fortnight ago took the opportunity to come back to life on Wednesday night and pick up exactly where it left off" as the Paralympic Games opened with another Opening Ceremony inspired by The Tempest "while surveying the sweep of British history." Kicking off 11 days of competition, the theme of the gala was enlightenment, which turned out to involve anything from "Handel's Eternal Source of Light Divine to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and from the apple falling in Isaac Newton's Lincolnshire garden to Stephen Hawking's celebration of the Higgs particle." Juxtaposed to her dramatic air entrance for the London Games Opening Ceremony, "this time all the Queen had to do was turn up and make a short speech." LOCOG Chair Sebastian Coe said to spectators, "Prepare to be inspired, prepare to be dazzled, prepare to be moved." Coe was speaking of the 503 events in which Medals will be won, "but he could have been describing the uncompromising climax of a four-hour gala" (GUARDIAN, 8/29).

THOUGHT FOR THE SOUL: Also in London, Roger Blitz wrote that the Paralympic Opening Ceremony "contained a less political edge" than Boyle's, instead "encouraging thoughts of people widening their horizons." A giant inflatable of the sculpture of the disabled artist Alison Lapper sat in the middle of the stage, "a poignant symbol of unlimited ambition." Bad weather delayed the Paralympic flame's journey to the stadium, but it arrived "borne spectacularly along a tripwire connecting the stadium to the Orbital Tower" by 24-year-old Royal Marine Joe Townsend, who lost both legs in Afghanistan and is now training to become a Paralympian (FINANCIAL TIMES, 8/29). The GUARDIAN's Charlotte Higgins wrote the Ceremony included a lot to look at. There was a giant umbrella in the center of the stadium, which transformed itself into a smoking, sparkling, fiery orb "that signified the big bang." The Higgs particle was described by a pulsating mushroom of silver umbrellas. A "vast golden orrery descended, and here was the moon, too, and the universal declaration of human rights rendered, it appeared at first, as a super-size Rolodex with pages turned by the spinning wheels of a wheelchair." Above acrobatic figures somersaulted and twirled "like birds or angels" (GUARDIAN, 8/29). In London, Tom Sutcliffe wrote "as if to underline the point that imperfections were to be celebrated rather than feared," actor Ian McKellen appeared as Prospero, borrowing characters from The Tempest but replacing Shakespeare's poetry "with something more bureaucratically serviceable for the occasion." He ordered: "Shine your light on the beautiful diversity of humanity." Miranda, hanging above the stadium in a wheelchair, "looked distinctly bemused by his instructions" to have an adventure of her own, "as if she wasn't entirely sure in what direction to head off first" (INDEPENDENT, 8/30). Also in London, Gibson wrote the cauldron lighting sequence "was the climax" of the Ceremony. It featured a "thought-provoking, expectation-defying, moving and occasionally challenging romp through the explosion of ideas of the Enlightenment to the present day, built around the twin themes of 'reason and rights'" (GUARDIAN, 8/29).

FOR RICHER, FOR POORER: The GUARDIAN's Peter Walker noted that developing nations remain under-represented, "with competitors facing obstacles ranging from prejudice against disability to the prohibitive cost of high-tech wheelchairs and prosthetic limbs." Int'l Paralympic Committee Dir of Media and Communications Craig Spence said, "In Beijing, 51% of the athletes came from just nine of the countries." These Paralympics produced "slightly better" statistics. The biggest nine teams in London account for just less than 40% of the 4,200 athletes competing. Paralympic sports remain "almost overwhelmingly a pursuit for richer countries," which was "brought into sharp relief" just before the Opening Ceremony when it emerged that teams from Malawi and Botswana had withdrawn due to funding problems. Of the biggest 25 squads at the Games, 19 belong to countries who are members of the OECD industrialized nations' club, with the remainder coming from either emerging economic powerhouses, such as China, Brazil, Russia and South Africa, or as with the Ukrainian and Iranian teams, from countries with particularly strong Paralympic traditions (GUARDIAN, 8/30).