Lifestyle & Belief

Paralympics 2012 kick off today in the UK


In this handout image provided by LOCOG, Tanni Grey-Thompson (center), Egidijus Bartkus, Beatrice Vio, and other members of torchbearing team 077 carry the Paralympic Flame on the torch relay leg through London on August 29, 2012.



The Paralympic Games open in London tonight, kicking off eleven days of competition among top disabled athletes from around the world.

AFP reported that a "spectacular opening ceremony starring acclaimed British scientist Stephen Hawking" and 3,000 performers was planned. The Paralympic Games, run by its own international committee, is the largest international sporting event after the Olympic Games, according to the British Paralympic Association.

This year's games will host the most athletes to date in the competition's 52-year history — 4,280 Paralympians from 165 countries, CNN reported. AFP noted that South Africa's Oscar Pistorius, who this year was the first double-amputee to run in the Olympics, "will be among the biggest stars" in attendance.

A number of this year's competitors are military veterans who sustained injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan, CNN noted.

More from GlobalPost: Complete coverage of the 2012 Olympic Games

Indeed, the games' deepest roots involve participation by military veterans. The earliest tournaments were organized by German doctor Ludwig Guttman as physical therapy for disabled soldiers, ABS-CBN reported. ABS-CBN News wrote that "the excitement is palpable in the place considered by many as the birthplace of the paralympic movement."

Athletes wil compete in 20 sports, including archery, powerlifting, wheelchair fencing and equestrian. North Korea will be taking place in the games for the first time, AFP reported, and the "unprecedented" number of 2.5 million tickets to the games will likely sell out for the first time, according to AFP.