The Greek public flocked to the Athens Olympic Stadium once again last night as a capacity 72,000 crowd watched the International Paralympic President, the UK’s Phil Craven, open the XII Paralympic Games.
The Great Britain team entered the stadium behind endurance runner Noel Thatcher The 38-year-old visually-impaired runner from Harlow, Essex. Speaking before the ceremony, Thatcher admitted, "Carrying the flag will be a special moment, I’m really excited about it," he said. "Being chosen to carry the flag by my fellow athletes is really humbling and it’s going to be a massively proud moment for me.
"I’ve taken part in four Opening Ceremonies in the past and the moment you walk out of the tunnel on to the track is amazing. It’s going to take an awful lot to wipe the smile off my face."
Fireworks from the stadium roof, light projections and performances from about 3,000 volunteers provided a stunning start to the 11 days of action, which will see more than 3,800 athletes from 136 countries taking part in the Games. The action is already underway in Athens and Great Britain got off to a golden start in the Velodrome where the Paralympians are finding the track as much to their liking as did their Olympic counterparts a few weeks ago.
Aileen McGlynn and Ellen Hunter became Britain’s first medallists at the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games winning the women’s B1-3 tandem 1km time trial. The pair took gold in terrific style – taking more than three-quarters of a second off the world record for the event. Cycling fourth in the competition at the Olympic Velodrome, the British pair clocked a time of 1.11.160 seconds – 2.29 seconds faster than the quickest previous time in the competition and 0.767 seconds faster than the world record set by Aussies Sarnya Parker and Tania Modra at the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games.
The British pair are both competing in their first Paralympic Games. McGlynn, is 31 and from Glasgow, while Hunter, her sighted guide rider, lives in Wrexham. The achievement is also more impressive, given that Hunter spent six weeks in hospital and was told she would never ride a bike again after breaking her back in a cycling accident last year.
Earlier Di Coates’ hopes of a medal at her fifth successive Paralympics Games ended this morning when she finished seventh in the final of the women’s SH1 air rifle standing competition at the Markopoulo Olympic Shooting Centre. Coates, one of Britain’s most experienced and successful Paralympic competitors, had earlier safely negotiated the qualifying round to reach the final but felt nerves got the better of her. "I’m very disappointed. I tried my best but it wasn’t my day. I was very nervous; it seems that the older you get the worse it gets", said Coates.
Great Britain’s Wheelchair Basketball team came off second best in a tough encounter with European Champions Italy, losing 51-48. They will face Australia in their next pool game.