Olympic Paralympians: ‘Best of British luck’

By Georgie Keate

The "biggest Paralympics of all time" will be "making history" this year as the athletes return to the Games' birthplace, Nick Clegg has said.

Nick Clegg has hailed the event as a "showstopping homecoming" in his message to Paralympics GB ahead of the opening ceremony this evening, 64 years after 16 Second World War veterans first competed at Stoke Mandeville.

"If 1948 was the birth of the Paralympic movement, let 2012 be a milestone in its journey," he said.

"Every four years the Games go from strength to strength. Capturing more imaginations. Breaking down more stereotypes. Creating more lifelong fans."

The 1948 British Olympics was the first year to see disabled athletes participating after the German refugee, Ludwig Guttmann, hosted a competition at Stoke Mandeville Hospital where he was in charge of Second World War patients with spinal cord injuries.

Hopes are high for the UK team which came second in Beijing with 102 medals, 42 of them gold.

"We want to go further, faster in London 2012: hitting fast forward to help deliver a big and lasting elevation of disability sport," said Clegg.

"The next 11 days will be all about incredible sport. So we are extremely ambitious for this event. All that is left is to wish Paralympics GB the very best of British luck."

The Games is on track to be the most successful in history, securing a record number of participants, sponsors and ticket sales at 2.4 million.

Among the medal hopefuls is Sarah Storey, a former gold medallist swimmer and cyclist since 2005. Her time in the 2008 individual pursuit race at the Beijing Paralympics would have put her in the top eight of the Olympic final.

Ellie Simmonds, the swimmer who became a household name during Beijing aged 13, will return to defend her gold victories in the 100m and 400m freestyle races.

Discus thrower Derek Derenalagi, who lost both his legs in Afghanistan five years ago, won a gold at the European Championships earlier this year and is viewed as a medal hope.

Martine Wiltshire, who lost both legs in the 7/7 bombings will be competing in the sitting volleyball while Andy Lapthorne hopes to win gold in wheelchair tennis.

"These Games have had the same organising committee; they'll happen in many of the same venues; Paralympians given the same support as Olympians," Clegg added in his message.

The opening ceremony, called Enlightenment, will be held at 20:00 BST this evening and is expected to pay tribute to music, sport and science. It is expected to feature Professor Stephen Hawking's voice and be based around Shakespeare's The Tempest.