Kiwis ready for action after opening ceremony
New Zealand flagbearer Michael Johnson got goosebumps as the crowd erupted when he led the Kiwis into London's Olympic stadium for the Paralympics opening ceremony.
Eleven of New Zealand's 24 Paralympians participated in the science-themed opening extravaganza before the crowd of 80,000 yesterday, with the Queen and British scientist Stephen Hawking among those who featured in the three-hour production.
"I'm just so proud, it was amazing leading the team out. I got goosebumps when the crowd erupted when we came in," said Johnson, a 38-year-old tetraplegic shooter from Waiuku who won gold in Athens in 2004 and bronze in Beijing four years ago.
"The lighting and fireworks were amazing. I just didn't know what to expect next."
The ceremony was punctuated by umbrellas, fruit and an airborne golden wheelchair raised the curtain on the biggest-ever Paralympic Games.
Most of the 4200 athletes from more than 160 countries took part in the ceremony, some walking, some rolling, others on crutches, but all wearing smiles.
The Queen declared the Games open, but Hawking was quick to steal the show with an inspirational reading, referencing "the dawn of civilisation".
Diagnosed with motor neurone disease at the age of 21, the physicist's work tied in with themes of the ceremony which included a re-creation of The Big Bang theory.
"We hadn't paid too much attention to what the opening ceremony would be or would look like, but it does signify for the athletes the start of the reason they're actually here," said New Zealand team chef de mission Duane Kale.
"We had a few athletes who marched, enough to muster a good number and a bit of colour, but many of them marched and went straight back to the village [because of looming competition]. Roll on tomorrow."
Four of the New Zealand team started competition overnight with most of the team in action from the second day later tonight, which was why only 11 athletes decided to take part in the opening festivities.
- © Fairfax NZ News