One year until flame lighting ceremony

Last year's heritage flame lighting ceremony at Stoke Mandeville Stadium ahead of the Sochi Winter Paralympic Games
Last year's heritage flame lighting ceremony at Stoke Mandeville Stadium ahead of the Sochi Winter Paralympic Games

Details of a ceremony at Stoke Mandeville Stadium to mark the lighting of a specially-created Heritage Flame ahead of next year’s Paralympic Games have been announced.

On September 2 2016, a year today (Wednesday) a flame will be created as part of the ceremony.

It will then merge with the Brazilian regional flames to create the Paralympic flame that will run the relay and light the cauldron in the Olympic Stadium in Rio during the Paralympics opening ceremony.

Hundreds of invited guests, including Paralympians and representatives from community groups, will attend the ceremony 68 years after Sir Ludwig Guttmann launched the Stoke Mandeville Games in 1948.

Xavier Gonzalez, chief executive of the International Paralympic Committee said: “Stoke Mandeville is a very special place for the Paralympic movement as this is where Sir Ludwig Guttmann created the Stoke Mandeville Games in 1948, the forerunner of the Paralympic Games as we know them today.

“I am delighted that in one year’s time we will come together again in Stoke Mandeville to celebrate its significance for the Paralympic movement by lighting the Paralympic heritage flame and sending it off to Brazil to form part of the Rio 2016 Paralympic flame.”

Tim Hollingsworth, CEO of the British Paralympic Association, added: “The heritage flame at Stoke Mandeville is a tremendous celebration of its unique position as the birthplace of the Paralympic movement.

“From its central role in the torch ceremony of the Paralympic Games at London 2012, through to Sochi 2014 and now to Rio and beyond, the heritage flame marks a special moment for athletes both former and current and we hope it will inspire those still to come.”

A steering group from the Bucks Legacy Board, made up of representatives from Aylesbury Vale District Council, the British Paralympic Association, Bucks County Council, Buckinghamshire Thames Valley Local Enterprise Partnership and WheelPower is already working on plans for the event.

Councillor Angela Macpherson said: “It’s a great honour for Stoke Mandeville to host the heritage flame ceremony before every summer and winter Paralympic Games.

“We hope next year’s event will inspire future generations and honour the valuable legacy of Sir Ludwig Guttmann.”

In February last year, the inaugural heritage flame was lit at Stoke Mandeville Stadium.

The flame lighting ceremony celebrated the start of the winter games in Sochi and included a spectacular firework display after speeches and two specially made videos.

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

Artistic director Bradley Hemmings, who was behind the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympic Games, choreographed the event.

He teamed up with designer Jon Bausor to create an armillary sphere, from which Paralympic gold medallist Hannah Cockcroft created the flame.

Speaking on the night, Sir Philip Craven, president of the International Paralympic Committee, said: “From now on, and for all future Paralympic Games, Stoke Mandeville will always stage the first leg of the Paralympic torch relay.”

Brtish Paralympic wheelchair fencer Gemma Collis, from Aston Clinton, who also attended Aylesbury High School, is currently training hard on her road to Rio.

She said: “It is fitting that the pioneering work of Sir Ludwig Guttman and the role of Stoke Mandeville as the birthplace of the Paralympic movement is remembered in this way prior to every future Paralympics.

“Without his work, the Paralympics as we know it may not exist today.

“The Sochi heritage flame lighting ceremony was incredible, and I am sure future celebrations will be the same!

“I am proud to have grown up in the area, and hope that with every heritage flame lighting, Stoke Mandeville will become further celebrated across the world as the spiritual home of the Paralympic movement.”

Before reaching Rio, the torch will be taken to various locations both across Bucks and around the country to give young people in particular the chance to be inspired.

Stoke Mandeville’s reputation will also receive a further boost this month when it hosts the Para-Badminton World Championships.

More than 230 athletes from 36 countries are set to compete in the event at Stoke Mandeville Stadium from September 8 to 13.