THE Paralympics were born in Britain and they officially arrived home yesterday.
The packed Olympic Stadium and millions more across the world watched as Joe Townsend, 24, who lost both legs as a Royal Marine in Afghanistan, flew in on a zip wire to start the sequence that lit the Paralympic cauldron.
After his breathtaking descent, he handed the flame to David Clarke, a member of the Paralympics GB five-a-side football team, who in turn passed it to Margaret Maughan, the winner of Great Britain's first Paralympic gold medal at the 1960 Rome Games, who lit the cauldron.
The opening ceremony signalled the start of 11 days of competition for 4200 athletes from 164 countries, including 161 from Australia.
Wheelchair rugby player Greg Smith, a five-time Paralympian, carried Australia's flag in front of an audience of 80,000 in the stadium.
The Paralympics have come a long way since 1948 when Jewish doctor Ludwig Guttmann, who had fled Nazi Germany, sought to change the lives of patients with spinal injuries - and inspire new hope in them through sport.
The first Stoke Mandeville Games, named after the hospital at which Guttmann was based, had 14 men and two women taking part in a wheelchair archery contest.
All these years later, the London Paralympics will be the biggest in history, hosting the most athletes since the Games' official birth in 1960 in Rome, where 400 competitors from 23 countries took part.
More tickets have been sold than for any other Paralympics, and fans are expected to make the Games a near or complete sellout.
Paralympics chairman Lord Sebastian Coe said it was his great honour to say welcome home to the Paralympic Games. "Prepare to be inspired, prepare to be dazzled, prepare to be moved," he said. "These will be a Games to remember."
Wheelchair basketball, shooting, swimming and track cycling are among the events set to feature on the opening day.
You can be sure those taking part will not be looking for sympathy from the crowds and they know they will not get any.
American sitting volleyball player Kari Miller said the days when audiences felt sorry for Paralympians had passed.
"There's less of the, 'Ah aren't they cute' and more of the realisation our sports aren't cute, they're tough," she said.
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