Czech paralymic athletes start their medal campaign in the London 2012 games

The opening ceremony, photo: CTK

This week a spectacular opening ceremony heralded the beginning of the 2012 Paralympic games in London with the themes of enlightenment and diversity. Czechs are being represented at the games by 52 athletes competing across many traditional events like athletics and swimming, but will also be appearing in paralympics-only sports such as Boccia.

The opening ceremony,  photo: CTK
“Ever since the dawn of civilisation, people have craved for an understanding of the underlying order of the world”– Stephen Hawking’s voiceover to the opening ceremony

…So began the opening ceremony of the 2012 paralympic games in London this week, kicking off a four-hour long spectacular on the theme of enlightenment that featured dramatisations of the Big Bang and Newton’s discovery of gravity, with Stephen Hawking acting as the audience’s guide through the universe. The ceremony was watched by thousands in the stadium itself, including the Queen of England and members of the royal family and the British Prime Minister and Mayor of London, while millions of other viewers tuned in to see the start of the twelve-day event.

This year the Czech Paralympic Committee has sent 52 athletes to compete across many different disciplines at the games, including cycling, swimming, athletics, and Boccia, a sport only played by handicapped athletes. Earlier we spoke to Běla Třebínová, a spokeswoman for the Czech Paralympic Committee and former paralymic gold medallist herself and asked which disciplines hold the strongest hopes for medals this year.

Jiří Ježek
“If I can put it like this, we’d of course like to succeed in all disciplines where we are taking part. Let me mention well-known road cyclist Jiří Ježek, archer David Drahonický, who has already succeeded in the first qualification round, and in swimming Arnost Petráček or Jan Povýšil. It would be great to get a medal in each discipline and I think the Czech Republic has a good chance.”

The Paralympic games as we know them today have had a comparatively short history, but the Czech tradition at the games has been a strong one. Běla Třebínová again:

“There is ever-increasing interest in the Paralympics both from sportsmen and women and viewers and visitors. The London Paralympics are unique in that all tickets sold out, which never happened before in Paralympic history. The Czech Paralympic tradition dates back to 1992 and the country remains at the forefront: at the Games in Beijing we finished 16th among nations.”

The sports events started on Thursday, with Czech athletes competing in Archery and Cycling, and with much more action to come from the team today and over the next ten days. The Czech paralympic team brought home a total of 27 medals (six gold, three silver and 18 bronze) four years ago in Beijing and 31 in Athens in 2004. As for the challenges faced by competitors, those can be greater than at the regular Games.

Photo: CTK
“From an emotional perspective, I think athletes produce great results and [have to overcome greater barriers]. In terms of training, Paralympics athletes are now matching or even surpassing healthy sportsmen and women in many respects. One result, more and more often, is that we see greater integration of handicapped and non-handicapped athletes, training together.”

Events at the paralympic games in London will continue every day until the ninth of September.