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Friday, 27 October, 2000, 11:11 GMT 12:11 UK
Paralympics reaches new heights
By Lynda Jenkins in Sydney
Previous records for attendance at the Paralympics were smashed when ticket sales exceeded a million.
An extraordinary achievement for Sydney, the host city, which has a relatively small population of just over four million people. This compares to an attendance figure for the Atlanta Paralympics of just over a third of a million.
The whole of Australia has embraced the Paralympic Games with the same enthusiasm as the Olympics. The crowds on Olympic Boulevard, at the centre of the Homebush complex, are as dense as those experienced during the Olympic Games.
After the success of the Olympics, the Australians had an understandable desire to prolong the party atmosphere that has taken over Sydney.
But to them the Paralympics are not just another side-show. The whole event has been promoted as a main event with extensive news coverage throughout the media.
Wherever you look you are reminded that the Paralympics is an event that the Aussies are proud to be hosting.
Huge TV screens are strategically located in the city centre to ensure that no one misses any of the events.
"These screens will be ideal for those people working in or visiting the city and will ensure that everyone can keep up with all the Paralympic action as it happens from Sydney Olympic Park," said Lois Appleby, Chief Executive SPOC (Sydney Paralympic Organising Committee).
The crowds were also out in force for the Torch Relay which started fourteen days before the opening of the event, with the torch passing through the hands of 920 torchbearers and travelling through 200 towns, cities and suburbs.
One of the honoured torchbearers was Julian Stewart, who has cerebral palsy. From the steps of Sydney Town Hall he spoke with passion about the spirit which drives Paralympians.
His emotive speech had a very clear message - strive for whatever it is in life that you desire and never give up, and he continued: "The great thing about the Paralympic Games is the fact that each and every competitor has learnt to overcome their own individual disability."
The torch continued its journey to the opening ceremony at Homebush where the Paralympic flame was ignited by one of Australia's best known Paralympians, winner of seven gold medals, Louise Sauvage, who along with her other team mates, has become a national sporting hero.
Louise proudly held the torch that lit the centre stage cauldron, creating a flame of seven metres, which set off a series of relay flames linked to music which bounced across the field onto a stage and up to ignite the Paralympic Cauldron itself, the same cauldron which held the Olympic flame.
This was a dramatic opening to the celebration that has been hailed as one of the best Paralympic opening ceremonies ever. With 6,000 performers, including Kylie Minogue, Vanessa Amorosi, Jeff St. John and actor Bryan Brown, performing a three-hour rock opera.
The parade of nations including 4,000 athletes from over 120 countries was a fitting highlight of the evening, which ended with the 87,000 strong audience on their feet dancing and joining in the party atmosphere.
The size and prestige of the Sydney Paralympics demonstrates the enormous growth in the movement from small beginnings in Rome in 1960, where just 400 athletes from 23 countries competed.
The Paralympics is not only set to be a celebration of sporting ability, but also a celebration of the human spirit to achieve great things.
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