LONDON – Paralyzed marathon participant Claire Lomas lit the Paralympic cauldron in central London on Friday, one of a slew of events meant to mark the coming of the Paralympic Games across the British capital.
Prime Minister David Cameron addressed the crowd gathered at London's Trafalgar Square just before the cauldron was ignited, saying that the Olympic Games had made his country proud, but that "these Paralympic Games will make our country prouder still."
"We are going to show the whole world that when it comes to putting on a show, there is no country like Britain and no city like London," he said.
The Paralympics — a competition for disabled athletes — have traditionally garnered far less attention than the Olympic Games, which attract hundreds of millions of spectators and sports enthusiasts from across the globe. Still the event's profile is rising, and organizers say that more than 2.3 million of 2.5 million tickets for the games have already been sold.
Three other Paralympic flames have been struck at other locations in Britain and Northern Ireland, and are due to be united next Tuesday in the southern England village of Stoke Mandeville before being carried 92 miles (150 kilometers) by 580 torchbearers to the Olympic Stadium in east London, where it will be used to light the cauldron at the opening ceremony of the games on the evening of August 29.
Queen Elizabeth II will officially mark the open at the Olympic stadium, but Buckingham Palace said Friday that her husband, Prince Philip, will not be able to attend as planned as he continues to recover from his recent hospitalization.
Meanwhile, his grandson Prince Harry praised torchbearers as teams of "inspirational people" who are the "embodiment of Paralympic values."
"They include those who have collectively overcome adversity through teamwork, those who have overcome many challenges and continue to push themselves to the limit, and those who inspire to do more than we think is possible," he said in a video message published Friday.
Lomas, who uses a bionic suit to move around after being paralyzed from the chest down following a horse-riding accident in 2007, said the experience of lighting the cauldron was "actually quite nerve-wracking."
Earlier this year, Lomas made headlines when she completed the London marathon route over several days, a bid that raised some 200,000 pounds ($315,000) for a spinal research organization. She smiled broadly and shook her walking poles as she lit the flame.
"I was shaking before I went on but it went smoothly," she said later.
Meanwhile, at London's neo-gothic Tower Bridge, the Paralympic symbol, the Agitos, was moved in to replace the Olympic rings hanging high above the River Thames. The three circling arcs represent Spirit in Motion — the Paralympics motto — and the red, blue and green color scheme which incorporate colors from flags from across the world.
Associated Press writer Cassandra Vinograd contributed to this report.