Paralympic flame ceremony sparks history in Aylesbury

Hannah Cockroft inside the armillary sphere
Hannah Cockroft inside the armillary sphere

Paralympic magic spread through the Vale this evening as the first ever heritage flame was dramatically lit in Stoke Mandeville.

The hour long ceremony was held at the birthplace of the Paralympics to celebrate the start of the winter games in Sochi on Friday.

Fireworks at the ceremony

Fireworks at the ceremony

Hannah Cockroft, a double Paralympic gold medallist at London in 2012, sat in her wheelchair high above the stage.

The 21-year-old British athlete spun the six metre framework of rings at Stoke Mandeville Stadium until one burst into flames.

Caz Walton, who represented Great Britain at eight Paralympics from 1964-1988 and won 10 golds across four sports, lit the torch from the sphere.

PE coordinator Denise Knibbs then lit the UK lantern while former army fusilier Andy Barlow ‘virtually transferred’ the flame to Russia.

A crowd of 400, made up of ballot winners and special guests, were treated to a spectacular firework display after speeches and two specially made videos as part of Friday’s ceremony.

The videos, shown on a big screen and narrated by Sir Ian McKellen, told the story of how Ludwig Guttmann began the Paralympic movement at Stoke Mandeville’s Spinal Injuries Centre in 1948.

Sir Philip Craven, President of the International Paralympic Committee, said: “From now on, and for all future Paralympic Games, Stoke Mandeville will always stage one leg of the Paralympic Torch Relay.”

This is the first time that a torch lighting element has taken place outside of the host nation.

President of the Sochi organising committee Dmitry Chernyshenko said the upcoming winter games will bring ‘new sports and new heroes’.

He said: “The Sochi 2014 torch relay is touching hearts and minds in every corner of Russia.”

Before her starring role, Cockroft told The Bucks Herald: “They’ve said I’m going to be goddess of the Paralympics. I’m excited about that, even though the fire is quite close to my face!”

Sprint specialist Cockroft, who won the T34 100m and 200m in London, is in training for the 800m at the European Championships in Swansea, which takes place in August.

She said: “I’m having to get used to the girls being so close to me as I don’t have my own lane anymore!”