“Through their sporting excellence, Paralympians are helping to fulfil an aim Sir Ludwig Guttmann had back in 1948, an aim to transform lives through sport.”
The inaugural Heritage Flame was lit at Stoke Mandeville Stadium in Aylesbury, Great Britain on Saturday evening as part of the celebrations in the build-up to Sochi 2014, which is the very first time there has been an international leg of the Paralympic Torch Relay.
In a ceremony that will now take place before every future summer and winter Paralympic Games, the event celebrated the history of the Paralympic Games and Buckinghamshire's position as the birthplace of the Paralympic Movement.
The ceremony, which was directed by Bradley Hemmings who was Co-Artistic Director of the London 2012 Paralympic Games Opening Ceremony and is also Director of Greenwich + Docklands Festivals, one of the UK's leading outdoor arts organisations, started with a film celebrating the Heritage Flame, written and directed by Mike Christie who directed several of the films from the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Entitled "I am the Flame", and narrated by legendary actor Sir Ian McKellen with music by Dan Jones, the film emotionally expressed the vision of the Paralympic Heritage Flame.
After this, the Paralympic Anthem was played prior to Sir Philip Craven, President of the International Paralympic Committee, providing the first speech of the ceremony.
He said: “When the Paralympics returned home in 2012, they were the best ever - a fitting tribute to Sir Ludwig Guttmann, the brainchild behind the Paralympic Games and the man who wrote the first chapter in the illustrious history of the Paralympic Movement.
“Tonight, six days before the start of the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, we start to write another chapter, a chapter that will ensure that for all future Paralympic Games, Stoke Mandeville and Great Britain is recognised globally as the birthplace of the Paralympic Movement.
“From now on, and for all future Paralympic Games, Stoke Mandeville will always stage one leg of the Paralympic Torch Relay celebrating the past, present and future of the Paralympic Movement in this country.”
He added: “Through their sporting excellence, Paralympians are helping to fulfil an aim Sir Ludwig Guttmann had back in 1948, an aim to transform lives through sport.”
Sir Philip was followed on to stage by Dmitry Chernyshenko, President of the Sochi 2014 Organising Committee who had flown in specially to support the event.
Chernyshenko addressed the audience saying: “It is the greatest honour to be here in the birthplace of the Paralympic Movement. Paralympic sport has the unique power to inspire and excite the world.
“This Paralympic flame has already ignited inspiration and excitement in nine time zones, from Russia’s Far East, through Siberia and the Urals, to the North West of the country. The Sochi 2014 Paralympic Torch Relay is touching hearts and minds in every corner of Russia ready for the greatest ever celebration of Paralympic winter sport.”
After the speeches, a specially commissioned animated film by Stoke Mandeville Artist in Residence Rachel Gadsden and filmmaker Abigail Norris entitled "Hephaestus" was played to the 400-strong audience, which introduced the background and concept of the Armillary Sphere.
A magnificent and iconic Armillary Sphere - a model of stars and planets in the sky which is over six metres tall and six metres in diameter, was then used to light the flame.
Designed by internationally acclaimed theatre designer Jon Bausor, it will be used for future Heritage Flame events. It is imagined as a constellation in the night sky celebrating the Paralympic Games, with the creation of the spark of the Paralympic Heritage flame itself arising from the human endeavour of a central wheelchair user, in this case, London 2012 gold medallist Hannah Cockroft.
Once the Armillary Sphere was lit, it was time to light the Paralympic Torch and Cauldron. This honour was bestowed on Caz Walton OBE, representing the heritage of Stoke Mandeville. Walton competed in her first Paralympic Games in Tokyo in 1964. She went on to compete in eight Paralympic Games and still works in the movement for both British Disability Fencing Association and the British Paralympic Association.
After the Flame was lit, Andy Barlow representing future Paralympians transferred the Heritage Paralympic Flame to Sochi, whilst Denise Knibbs, representing Buckinghamshire's communities, lit the UK Paralympic lantern.
Speaking of her role in the ceremony, Hannah Cockroft MBE said: “It has been a fantastic honour to represent of all the Paralympians that have competed for Great Britain and Northern Ireland this evening – and what an amazing way to do it!
“I’ve said before that the most fantastic moments of my life were winning gold medals for ParalympicsGB in 2012 but this is definitely up there with London 2012. I just can’t put into words how proud I am to have been involved in such an historic moment for the Paralympic Movement in this country.”
Prior to the main ceremony, there were pre-event speeches in the sports hall at Stoke Mandeville Stadium by Chair of the Buckinghamshire Legacy Board Carl Etholen and Chairman of the British Paralympic Association Tim Reddish OBE.
Tim Reddish OBE said: “The BPA is very proud that our nation is recognised as the birthplace of the Paralympic Movement and we showed the world how passionate about Paralympic sport we are in the UK in 2012.
“We’re delighted therefore that we will play a part in all future Paralympic Torch Relays and tonight we will be witnessing history as the first Heritage Flame is lit. The moment the cauldron is lit is always very special for the athletes as it signifies the start of the Games that they have all worked so hard for. This time around, knowing that a part of it was created in the UK will make the ParalympicsGB athletes about to compete in Sochi especially proud.”
Chairman of Buckinghamshire County Council and Buckinghamshire Legacy Board Carl Etholen said: “It’s fitting that we honour the memory of the man who – just a couple of hundred yards from here – gave birth to what we now know as the Paralympic Movement . Dr Ludwig Guttmann – or Poppa, as he was affectionately known – who set up Great Britain’s first specialist unit for treating Spinal Injuries – here at Stoke Mandeville. We in Buckinghamshire are so proud that Poppa Guttmann’s small beginnings gave birth to the modern Paralympic Movement.
“Proud, too, that we’re able to host this historic flame lighting event in partnership with the International Paralympic Committee, the Sochi Games Organisers, and the British Paralympic Association. We hope this event will inspire future generations and honours the valuable legacy of Ludwig Guttmann.”
In similar events to this evening’s ceremony at Stoke Mandeville, which was part-funded by Arts Council England, all eight Russian Federal districts will host Flame Festivals and will ignite sparks which symbolise the energy and support to the Paralympic Games and their athletes. All Flame Festival cities will feature a flame lighting ceremony, torch visits and a flame transfer to Sochi.
After Saturday evening’s event, the Heritage Flame from Stoke Mandeville will visit several landmarks in Buckinghamshire and London, heading to Sochi to merge with all other flames in a special ceremony on 5 March. This unification of the flames will create the official Paralympic Flame of the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games which will be used in a final relay before the Opening Ceremony on 7 March.