Flame-lighting ritual heralds Paralympics

The great celebration of the Olympic Games may be over, but an athletics meeting of international significance being hosted by Athens will shake us out of our routine and offer excitement too. The Paralympic Games, which run from September 17 to September 28, will involve 4,000 athletes from around the world. During the Games the athletes will compete in 19 disciplines, 15 of which are also Olympic disciplines: wheelchair basketball, cycling, equestrian, wheelchair fencing, five-a-side football, seven-a-side football, judo, sailing, shooting, swimming, table tennis, wheelchair tennis and volleyball. There are four special Paralympic disciplines: boccia, goalball, power lifting and wheelchair rugby. There are 130 athletes in the Greek Paralympic team, most of whom will compete in track and field, swimming and power lifting. The events will take place at Olympic venues in Attica: the Olympic Stadium, Galatsi, the indoor gymnasium in Faliron, Hellenikon, Ano Liosia, Nikaia and Markopoulo. Spectators of the Paralympics will see some exceptional performances. As the official Athens 2004 Paralympics site notes, performances of the athletes are comparable to those of Olympic athletes. Canadian athlete Donovan Bailey’s Olympic record in the men’s 100 meters is 9.84 seconds; The Paralympic record of Ajibola Adoye, a Nigerian arm amputee, in the same event, is 10.72 seconds. In four of the power-lifting weight categories, Paralympic world records exceed able-bodied world records by up to 12 kilograms. Tickets for some of the events, such as swimming, are sold out, while only the most expensive tickets for the opening ceremony are still available. Tickets for the opening (September 17) and closing (September 28) ceremonies are 10, 20 and 30 euros. Tickets with a seat number for the events cost 10 euros (5 euros for pupils, students, soldiers, the elderly, parents of large families and people with disabilities). Daily tickets do not show a date, venue or event but are stamped on admittance and are valid for all events on that day. Tickets are available from special outlets at the Panathenaic Stadium, Korai Square, Kifissia (traffic police square), Maroussi (Castallias Square), Peristeri (Bournaziou Square), Glyfada (Ioannou Metaxa and Dousmani streets), Piraeus (Korai Square), and at the offices of the Athens 2004 Organizing Committee (ATHOC) in Nea Ionia. Tickets can also be purchased online by credit card at After the opening ceremony, ticket booths will operate inside the venues. The Olympic traffic lanes will not be in force during the Paralympics, nor will there be restricted parking areas, but traffic measures will be taken to facilitate the transport of athletes and officials. The Paralympic road ring will apply to small sections of many roads – including Syngrou, Kifissias, Kallirois, Poseidonos, Vassileos Constantinou, Katehaki, Marathonos and Kifissou – along which parking will be prohibited September 15-30. The controlled entry areas around the Olympic venues will continue to apply. During the Paralympics, as with the Olympics, only accredited vehicles and vehicles with special permits issued by local municipalities will be permitted to enter those areas. The Paralympic Flame, which will be brought into the Olympic Stadium on September 17, will accompany all the events. It will be brought to the stadium after being carried around Attica by 705 torchbearers. Today, the flame will be lit at Thiseion in the Ancient Agora in a ceremony inspired by the myth of Hephaestus, patron of fire. The flame will be kindled by a spark made by rubbing two stones together. That evening, the flame will remain at the Herod Atticus Theater and continue on the following day on its 410-kilometer (255-mile) route through the 54 municipalities of Attica. On its way to the Olympic Stadium, the flame will illuminate historic areas and monuments of Attica, such as the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion and the Temple of Artemis at Brauron, as well as sites of contemporary note. Among the torchbearers will be noted Olympic and Paralympic athletes, as well as members of the International Olympic Committee, and representatives of the Federation of Athletes with Disabilities and other organizations involved in the Games. The Paralympics in their present form first took place in Rome in 1960, immediately after the Olympic Games; 400 athletes from 23 countries participated. Since then, they have been held every four years, and in 1976 the first Winter Paralympics were held. The Seoul Olympics in 1988 were a landmark, being the first time the Paralympics were held in the same venues as the Olympics. That was also the first year that the torch-carrying ceremony was established as the forerunner to the Paralympics.

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