Background to the Games

This was London’s fourth attempt at hosting the Olympic Games since they had previously hosted them in 1948, previous bids had been made by Birmingham for the 1992 Games, and Manchester for the 1996 and 2002 Games. After the failures by both these cities, the decision was made to have London bid for the 2012 Games, as it was likely the only UK city that had a reasonable chance of success. Manchester would however go on to host the 2002 Commonwealth Games, an event which greatly bolstered the London bid for 2012.

For the Paralympic Games, the London team emphasised highly that the Games would be returning to their place of origin, as Stoke Mandeville was the birthplace of the Paralympic Movement in 1948, when the Stoke Mandeville Games were hosted on the same day as the opening ceremony of the 1948 Olympic Games in London. 

There were nine cities bidding to host the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Summer Games, with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) shortlisting five of them; London, New York, Paris, Madrid, and Moscow. If successful, London would be the first city to host the modern Olympics three times, having hosted them in 1908 and 1948. Paris was by far the closest competitor, having won top votes in the application phase along with Madrid. Sebastian Coe, who was selected as the head of London 2012 on 19th May 2004, was instrumental in helping the team close the gap with Paris, and by the time of the final vote, it was too close to call between the two cities.

The final vote was held at the 117th IOC session, hosted in Singapore from 2-9 July 2005, with the vote and results being announced on 6th July. Before the private ballot was held, each of the five remaining cities were allowed a 45-minute speech to argue their case. The London presentation was opened by Princess Anne who read out a message from the Queen and included a recorded speech from the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, in both English and French, before Sebastian Coe addressed the audience. He gave an inspirational speech about how the Olympic Games, wherever they are held, should always remain as an inspiration to future generations. Thirty schoolchildren, aged 12-18 had been flown to Singapore with the London 2012 delegates, Lord Coe explained their presence by saying.

Why are so many here taking the place of politicians and businessmen? It's because we are serious about inspiring young people.

This speech was widely praised and considered by many to be what tipped the vote in London’s favour.

The UK is the birthplace of the Paralympic Movement, having first hosted the Stoke Mandeville Games in 1948, which formed the basis for the modern Paralympics. The event was organised by Dr Ludwig Guttman, who believed that sport was vital for the rehabilitation of injured and disabled people, especially as there had been an increased number in disabled men after the Second World War. As a result, the build up to the 2012 Games repeatedly emphasised the fact the Games were returning to their spiritual birthplace.

The history of the Paralympics being linked to the UK was one of many factors which led the organisers to believe that the 2012 Games would be the biggest ever, in terms of spectators and mass appeal. Spurred on by the success of Team GB in the Olympics, many Britons anticipated the Paralympics with the same hopes for success. This would prove true, as, even before the Olympics had ended, a record 2.3 million tickets had been sold for the Paralympics, with pricing being described as offering good value to encourage more spectators. The anticipation of the Games had further benefits, as Sports Minister Hugh Robertson announced that funding for ParalympicsGB for the Rio 2016 Paralympics had been secured even before the London 2012 Games had started.

A study in 2014 found that more than two thirds of people believed attitudes towards disabled people had improved since the 2012 Games.  The survey of nearly 10,000 people, was held to mark the two year anniversary of the Games and measure their impact, as well as to coincide with the first anniversary of the Disability Confident Campaign, launched by Prime Minister David Cameron, with the intention of breaking down barriers for disabled people seeking employment. Channel 4 also ran its own survey of 2,000 people, which found that 91% of people who watched the Games agreed that Paralympians are just as talented as Olympians and almost 79% also agreed that the Paralympics were just as good as the Olympics.

Only a month after London won the 2012 bid, members of the Paris 2012 Organising Committee argued that the London 2012 delegation had violated IOC rules. One violation, they argued, was when Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke in 2003 at a summit in Nigeria, where he mentioned the upcoming London 2012 bid. The argument from the Paris 2012 delegates implied that through his speech, Blair had lobbied Commonwealth Countries to support the London bid. This was further supported by Blairs speech, in which he mentioned the London bid, comparing it to the 2002 Commonwealth Games, held in Manchester. The IOC themselves had previously written to British Officials for an explanation, as the use of any international promotion before the final candidature phase is strictly forbidden.

Another controversial issue, bought up by the Paris delegation, was the initiative run by the London team offering incentives to athletes, including free flights, food, and accommodation. The London team did withdraw this incentive after IOC President Jacques Rogge raised concerns that it would start a bidding war. However, this did not prevent the Paris team from arguing that the incentive was essentially bribery and could be interpreted as the London team trying to earn votes from economically poorer countries. IOC Present Jacques Rogge eventually released a statement on 4th August 2005, to quell any more allegations, arguing that the bidding and selection process had been entirely fair and abided by IOC rules.

The build-up to the Games

Logo

Logo for London 2012 Paralympic Summer Games

For the first time, the Paralympics and Olympics shared the same design. Designed by Wolff Ollins, it was a representation of the number 2012, with a jagged design meant to appeal to younger audiences. The Paralympics had its own distinct colour scheme, said to have been inspired by media, communications and fashion, it also incorporated the Paralympic symbol.

Poster

Whereas previous Games had used just one poster, the London Organising Committee instead chose to utilise the UK's cultural prowess in art commissioning 12 individual artists to design posters, with 6 being designed for the Paralympics. These designs were to celebrate the Paralympics, as well London being the host city. These posters were temporarily put on display at the Tate Britain from June-September 2012, to celebrate the Games. A set of the posters was given to the Queen to be stored in the Royal Collection, and another set was given to the Government Art Collection, which displayed them at the Prime Minister’s residence, 10 Downing Street in 2012.

 Poster for London 2012 Paralympic Summer Games Poster for London 2012 Paralympic Summer Games Poster for London 2012 Paralympic Summer Games

Poster for London 2012 Paralympic Summer Games Poster for London 2012 Paralympic Summer Games Poster for London 2012 Paralympic Summer Games

  • Tracey Emin - Birds 2012 
    One of the UK’s most prolific artists, well known for her work 'My Bed', as an entry to the Turner prize in 1999. For this poster, Emin took the Paralympic values of inspiration and determination to create what she described as a 'love letter'. Two small birds, which frequently feature in her works as symbols of freedom and strength, perch on a branch, as the Paralympic Agitos logo floats gracefully beneath them, as though they are feathers. Her handwritten note of “You Inspire me with your determination and I love you” emphasises her genuine personal feelings towards the athletes and the values of the Paralympic Games.
  • Michael Craig-Martin - Go 
    Known to blend rather ordinary objects with everyday words, Craig-Martin took immediate inspiration from the Games with his poster, linking a stopwatch with the word 'Go'. Through this combination he expresses both the anticipation from the athletes to start, and the excitement of the crowd as they cheer their favourites to the finish line.
  • Gary Hume - Capital 
    Using only a limited palette and simple imagery, Hume still creates works that stand out to the observer, with different interpretations of his works. For 'Capital' Hume has presented the image of the wheelchair-tennis player, playing behind summer foliage. Whilst the image may not be obvious at first, one can notice that the large, purple circle, represents the wheel of the wheelchair, whilst the tennis ball is suspended mid-air, represented by the smaller black dot. Some have also interpreted the larger circle to represent the open mouth of a cheering spectator.
  • Fiona Banner - Superhuman Nude 
    Banner utilises the nude form in her works, but not in the traditional sense, instead transcribing her thoughts into verbal descriptions, which detail the shapes and forms of the body, as well as minute behaviours, such as the tapping of fingers, or shared eye contact. 'Superhuman Nude' takes its name from the work, in which Banner has presented a nude study of a Paralympic Athlete. The title alone already informs the audience of the ability of the athlete, yet with 'Nude' added, Banner also explores the fragility and nerves of the athlete as they anticipate competing.
  • Sarah Morris - Big Ben 2012 
    Geometry is key to Sarah Morris's work, with her use of abstract and complex patterns to create paintings inspired by architecture, as well as origami patterns and symbols. For her poster, Morris opted to use her detailed eye to recreate perhaps London’s most iconic landmark; Big Ben, or Elizabeth Tower. The line work and vivid colours give an excited and fast-paced feel to the image, invoking an image of athletes running down a track at high speed.
  • Bob and Roberta Smith - Love 
    Patrick Brill is mostly known by his Pseudonym Bob and Roberta Smith, retained from the brief period where he worked alongside his sister, Roberta. He uses language to create hand painted signs on found wood, with his messages often invoking a community style, mimicking the appearance of banners, protest signs, and street signs. For 'Love' Smith directs the audience to reflect on the core elements of the Paralympic Games; Courage, Inspiration, Sweat, and Love, being the centre of attention as a reminder to those both participating and attending of the respect one should feel towards each other, regardless of their background or status.

Slogan

“Inspire a Generation”

Changes to Events

For the first time since 2000, events for the intellectually disabled were added back to the Games programme. The events had been suspended since the Sydney 2000 Games, when the Spanish intellectually disabled basketball team were found to be cheating, by using athletes with no intellectual disability. These events included athletics, swimming, and table tennis. In order to prevent a repeat of the scandal, the IPC implemented 'sports intelligence' tests as part of a more rigorous classification process.

For the first time, the sighted guides for all athletes were eligible to receive medals in selected events; previously only guides for the sprint tandem in cycling would receive medals.

Venues

Olympic Park Venues

  • Olympic Stadium
    The centrepiece of the Olympic Park, the Stadium was designed by Architect firm Sir Robert McAlpine. With waterways on three sides, spectators entered across five bridges. As an example of the efforts to ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ the top ring was constructed of surplus gas supply pipes. After the Games, the Stadium underwent redevelopment, reducing its capacity to 60,000, and is now used as the home stadium for West Ham United Football Club.
    Spectator capacity – 80,000.
    Used for the opening and closing ceremonies, athletics.
  • Aquatics Centre
    Designed by Architect Zaha Hadid, the wave-like building was built for the Games. It was opened to the general public in 2014.
    Spectator capacity - 17,500. After the Games, several seating tiers were removed, reducing the capacity to 2,800.
    Used for swimming.
  • Basketball Arena
    Designed by Architect group Wilkinson Eyre, the basketball arena was built in less than three months in 2010 for the Games.
    The building was dismantled in 2013, with components being used elsewhere, for example the seats were used in the construction for Barnet FC's new football stadium.
    Spectator capacity – 10,000.
    Used for wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby.
  • Copper Box Arena
    The Copper box Arena was built for the Games and is named for its design, which incorporates pipes and rainwater collectors, promoting sustainability. With 88 rooftop light pipes, it was the first UK sports venue to be naturally lit, allowing an energy saving of up to 40%.
    Spectator capacity – 6,500.
    Used for goalball.
  • Eton Manor
    Another venue built specifically for the Games, Eton Manor consists of four indoor and six outdoor courts.
    The site was previously the location of the Eton Manor Old Boys’ Club which was founded in 1909 by old Etonian, Gerald Wellesley, as an extension of Eton College's Mission in Hackney Wick.
    Spectator capacity – 6,500.
    Used for wheelchair tennis.
  • Riverbank Arena
    A temporary venue built for the Games, there were two pitches, with the warm up pitch used for 5-a-side and the main pitch for 7-a-side football.  It was dismantled shortly after the conclusion of the Games.
    Spectator capacity – 16,000.
    Used for 5-a-side and 7-a-side football.
  • Velodrome
    The Velodrome, today known as Lee Valley Velopark, was built for the Games. Designed by Architect, Ron Webb, the Velodrome was also sustainable in design, collecting rainwater to reduce mains water usage by over 70%, using natural ventilation to remove the need for air conditioning, as well as roof lights reducing the usage of artificial lighting. Sir Chris Hoy worked with the design team to provide input from a competitors perspective.
    Spectator capacity – 6,000.
    Used for track cycling.

Non-Olympic Park Venues

Several existing venues were re-purposed for use at the Paralympic Games.

  • Brands Hatch
    Near Sevenoaks in Kent, Brands Hatch is primarily used as a motor racing track, although it was set up as a cycling venue in the early 20th century. It was converted into a course consisting of the track and local roads for road cycling events. Italian cyclist Alex Zanardi, who lost both his legs in a motor racing accident, won gold in both the H4 time trial and the road race. A racing driver, Zanardi had raced numerous times at Brands Hatch prior to the Games.
    Used for road cycling.
  • Eton Dorney
    Completed in 2006, Dorney Lake is a purpose-built rowing lake, constructed and owned by Eton College, it is situated near the village of Dorney, in Buckinghamshire. The venue was renamed Eton Dorney for the duration of the Games and hosted the rowing events. The site, improvements to access roads and a new bridge were funded by the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA).
    Spectator capacity – 30,000, including 10,000 along the bank.
    Used for rowing.
  • ExCel Centre
    Built in 2000, the ExCel centre has longed been used as a centre for exhibitions and conventions and is located at the Royal Victoria Dock in London. For the Games it was converted into an indoor multi-purpose arena with several events being held over the course of the Games.
    Spectator capacity – 10,000.
    Used for - boccia, judo, table tennis, sitting volleyball, wheelchair fencing, powerlifting.
  • Greenwich Park
    One of the Royal Parks of London, Greenwich Park is located within the Greenwich World Heritage site and covers 180 acres. For the Games much of the park was converted for the equestrian events.
    Spectator capacity - 23,000.
    Used for equestrian.
  • North Greenwich Arena
    Known to most people as the O2 arena, legal requirements regarding sponsorship meant the venue was temporarily referred to as the North Greenwich Arena.
    Spectator capacity – 20,000.
    Used for wheelchair basketball.
  • Royal Artillery Barracks
    Built between 1776 and 1802, the Royal Artillery Barracks were the home of the Royal Artillery from 1776 to 2007. For the Games, a temporary venue was built at the site to be used for the shooting events. Shooting was originally intended to be held at the National Shooting Centre Bisley, in Surrey, however after the IOC expressed concerns at the number of events being held outside London the venue was changed to the Royal Artillery Barracks.
    Spectator capacity – 7,500.
    Used for archery, shooting.
  • Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy
    The Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy was selected as the venue for sailing events during the 2012 Games having previously hosted numerous world events. The ODA funded the cost to expand the site which included an extended dinghy park, holding 600 boats.
    Spectator capacity – A non-ticketed venue with no official area for spectators, those wishing to watch were able to use a number of free vantage points.
    Used for sailing.

Mascot

Mascot for London 2012 Paralympic Summer Games

© International Paralympic Committee (IPC)

Mandeville was named after Stoke Mandeville Hospital, where the first Stoke Mandeville Games were held and ultimately the birthplace of the Paralympic Movement. Mandeville was the partner mascot to the Olympics Wenlock; the design represented a melted steel girder taken from the Olympic Stadium, with a shiny polish to reflect the personalities of the people it meets. The large eye represents a camera, symbolising the social media aspect of the Games, with the letter 'M' lit up on its forehead, reminiscent of a London taxi. There are three spikes on its head, representing the three Agitos of the Paralympic logo.

The Paralympic Flame

The torch used a similar design to that of the Olympic Torch, with both designed by Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby. Whereas the Olympic Torch has a gold finish, the Paralympic torch had an aluminium alloy skin with a mirror finish. The textured surface allows for easy grip, and the torch was the lightest ever designed, allowing younger runners to carry the torch for longer.

Initially, four flames were lit on the highest peaks of the four nations of the United Kingdom, which were then brought down to their respective capital cities for special events honouring the Games. On the 28th August, these four flames were then united at Stoke Mandeville Stadium into the Paralympic torch at exactly 20:12. The relay itself travelled over 92 miles within 24 hours, with 580 torchbearers, working in teams of five. Torchbearers included Sir Philip Craven, head of the IPC, model and acid attack victim, Katie Piper and Paralympian, Ann Wild. The torch travelled to famous London landmarks and iconic areas, such as ZSL London Zoo, Piccadilly Circus, Tower Bridge, and Lords Cricket Ground.

The opening ceremony

The Opening Ceremony was held on the 29th August 2012 at the Olympic Stadium in London, in front of 62,000 spectators, as well as being streamed free online on the Paralympic Games official YouTube channel and was watched by approximately 11 million people in the UK.

Just before the event started, spectators were treated to a fly-by from Aerobility, a British charity that teaches disabled people how to fly.

The name for the show was 'Enlightenment', and it was directed by Jenny Sealey and Bradley Hemmings, who took influence from William Shakespeare’s play 'The Tempest', with actor Ian McKellen playing Prospero and disabled actress Nicola Miles-Wildin playing Miranda.

Another key theme for the ceremony was that of the scientific breakthroughs that had been made by British scientists, and the impact these have had in pushing humanity forward, particularly the idea that these discoveries have redefined what we think possible; a theme that ties in to the spirit of the Paralympics.

Ground-breaking scientist Stephen Hawking appeared numerous times during the ceremony. Hawking, diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis at the age of 21, wrote his own lines for his performance.

There were approximately 3,250 volunteers taking part in the event, with a volunteer hailing from every continent, and ranging in ages from 10 to 80. One notable volunteer was Roger Winfield, who was a flag bearer as a child at the Stoke Mandeville 1984 Paralympic Summer Games. 68 disabled volunteers took part, as well as 73 deaf and disabled professional performers, including wheelchair users who danced at the beginning of the ceremony, to celebrate the modern umbrella, invented by British industrialist Samuel Fox in 1852. In the centre of the stadium lay a giant umbrella that the dancers performed around, as the ceremony progressed parts of the umbrella were taken away to reveal a map displaying the northern hemisphere.

Queen Elizabeth II entered, along with Sir Philip Craven, then President of the IPC. Other attendees were Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge, Prime Minister David Cameron, Mayor of London Boris Johnson, as well as foreign dignitaries such as Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, and Vice-President of the USA Joe Biden. The National Anthem was then performed by a 430-strong choir consisting of people from London and Liverpool, including The Kaos Signing Choir for Deaf & Hearing Children.

The 4,237 athletes then came into the stadium to be seated before the rest of the ceremony took place, with Great Britain’s flagbearer being Peter Norfolk, who had won gold in singles wheelchair tennis at the both the 2004 and 2008 Paralympic Games, as the team walked out to David Bowies 'Heroes'.  Blind singer Denise Leigh then performed the song 'Spirit in Motion', written by composer Errollyn Wallen specifically for the Games, as a tribute to the athletes, and based on the motto for the Paralympic Games, first introduced at Athens 2004. Both Sir Philip Craven and Sebastian Coe, the Chairman of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) addressed the crowd, with Coe recalling the first Stoke Mandeville Games in 1948. Craven noted that it would be the start of the biggest Paralympics ever, and remembered Sir Ludwig Guttmann, who started the Games in 1948.

Team GB parade at the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympic Summer Games

Team GB parade with flagbearer Peter Norfolk, Paralympian © Getty Images

After Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the Games, the flag of the Paralympics was carried into the stadium by eight members of the Great Britain U22 wheelchair basketball team. The Paralympic anthem was accompanied by the short film 'Paralympia', directed by disabled filmmaker Lou Birks. Swimmer, Liz Johnson, rugby official Richard Allcroft, and equestrian GB team member David Hunter took the oaths on behalf of all athletes, judges, and coaches, vowing to honour the rules of their respective sport, this was the first time that a coach had taken the oath. 

The large umbrella in the centre of the stadium was lifted way, revealing the Declaration of Human Rights on centre stage, as Miranda continued her adventure, guided by Prospero. 

A notable part came during the 'Gravity' segment, when the 62,000 strong crowd all took a simultaneous bite into an apple they have been given previously, recognising Isaac Newton’s work on gravity. 

The song 'Spasticus Autisticus' was performed by the Graeae Theatre Company. The song, by Ian Drury and Chaz Jankal, was written in 1981 in protest of the International Year of Disabled People, which Drury found to be patronising. The lyrics, deliberately provocative, were included as a celebratory punk anthem and pleas for understanding of disabled people, rather than that of sympathy. Alongside the song was a dance routine, where dancers performed as protestors for equal rights and recognition, as a replica of the statue 'Alison Lapper Pregnant' was brought into the stadium. The statue was made by artist Marc Quinn, who did the sculpture of disabled artist Alison Lapper, who was born without arms and with shortened legs. The real statue had been displayed previously on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, London.

Opening ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics with the giant statue of Alison Lapper by Marc Quinn

© International wheelchair and amputee sports federation (IWAS)

Miranda then rose into the sky to break the metaphorical 'Glass ceiling', a term usually used to describe the limit that people, especially disabled people, can reach in their lives.

A short montage of the torch relay was played before the torch itself was carried in by Rio 2016 hopeful Joe Townsend on a zip wire, a Royal Marine who lost both legs after stepping on a land mine in AfghanistanJoe handed it to Britain’s five-a-side football captain, Dave Clark, who then ran to pass it to 84 year old Margaret Maughan, Britain’s first ever gold medallist in the first Paralympics Games held in Rome in 1960. She then used the torch to light the petals, which rose to form the Paralympic cauldron, a smaller version of the Olympic one, holding 164 individual parts, one for each participating nation.

Margaret Maughan holding the lit Paralympic Torch at the London 2012 Paralympics opening ceremony

Margaret Maughan with the Paralympic Torch at the London 2012 Paralympics opening ceremony. © Getty Images

During the Games

The Olympic Village was built within the Olympic Park, located in Stratford. With numerous architectural firms appointed to work on the project, the site was built to fit in with the urban park design of the wider Olympic Park.  For the duration of the Games, architects added temporary partitioning, to give a hotel feel to the apartments. Overall, there were 3,000 apartments, each with their own TV, internet access, as well as a private courtyard. For the Paralympics, many adjustments were made to the building, with 300 rooms converted, and accessible toilets being added in order to accommodate the 4,237 participating athletes, as well as coaches and officials.  Two temporary buildings were added for the Games, a food hall that was open 24 hours a day, as well as a large entertainment centre for athletes to use, including a non-alcoholic bar. There was also a plaza where families of athletes could visit. 

To fit in with the idea of sustainability and to continue the legacy of the Games, the apartment blocks were designed with the intention of them being converted into 1,400 affordable homes after the Games had finished.

Several buildings used by teams for planning and meetings were also later converted into the Cobham Academy, a school for children aged 3-18, as well as an adult learning centre and community arts complex.

Located in East London, the Olympic Park had access to numerous forms of public transportation; the largest train station for the area was Stratford, which is in London Zone 2/3, and served by the London Underground, Overground, Light Docklands Railway (DLR), as well as National Rail’s Great Eastern main line. Prior to the Games, the Government announced a £100 million investment to improve the station and increase capacity, with an expectation that the number of morning passengers would double to 83,000 by 2016. More lifts and wider platforms were added, allowing better accessibility for disabled spectators. A new bridge was added on Angel Lane, improving bus and vehicle routes, as well as two new pedestrian footpaths and new cycle lanes.

The Docklands Light Railways (DLR) received an investment of £80 million for the Games, adding 22 new carriages to increase capacity, all being accessible for wheelchairs. A new line was built connecting Stratford to Canning Town, with trains consisting of 3 rather than the usual 2 carriages.

The ODA also put considerable investment into improving and adding pathways for pedestrians and cycle lanes. A pathway along Regents Canal was built, connecting the Olympic Park to the North Greenwich Arena and Royal Artillery Barracks venues. 1,000 buses and coaches were also used during the duration of the Games, and a high-speed train ran from St Pancras International to the Olympic Park, arriving in 6 minutes and 45 seconds.

For the Paralympics, 8.7 miles of traffic lanes were designated throughout London as the Paralympic Route Network (PRN). This route connected the city of London, where the IPC and most media were based, to the Olympic Park and other venues, allowing the media, officials and athletes transport to move quicker through London and a separate lane was added to the M4 motorway.

The Medals

Gold medal from the London 2012 Paralympics  Gold medal from the London 2012 Paralympics

Gold medals from the London 2012 Paralympics. © Ian Brittain

Designed by Lin Cheung, the medals feature a close-up of the wings of the Greek Goddess of Victory, along with the logo for the Paralympics, with the front symbolising the Paralympic motto 'Spirit in Motion'. On the rim are the words 'London 2012 Paralympic Games' written in Braille as well as English. The reverse of the medal symbolises the 'heart of victory' and has textures that were moulded directly from the Plaster Cast of 'The Nike of Paionio’s' from the British Museum Cast Collection. The original statue remains in Greece, at the Museum of Olympia, Ilia. The gold and silver medals weighed 412g, with the bronze weighing 357g, making these the heaviest Summer Paralympic medals to date.

Medal statistics

4243 athletes from 164 countries, competing in 503 events in 20 sports. The ParalympicsGB team consisted of 177 men and 109 women who won a total of 120 medals, 34 gold, 43 silver and 43 bronze, finishing third in the medal table.

To commemorate the achievements of each ParalympicsGB gold medallist, the Royal Mail painted a post box gold in said athlete’s hometown, including one painted at Stoke Mandeville Hospital. This was originally intended to be temporary, but after an overwhelming positive response, the change has become permanent.

Prominent British Paralympic athletes

David Weir competing in the Marathon at the London 2012 Paralympics

David Weir competing in the marathon. © Brendan Gately

  • David Weir
    Born with a spinal cord transection that left him unable to use his legs, David Weir competed in the wheelchair athletics events, winning four gold medals, three in the Olympic Stadium, and one in the Men’s Marathon T54. His gold in the marathon was Great Britain’s last gold medal won in the Games, with the race taking place on the final day. Along with cyclist Sarah Stoney, Weir went on to carry the flag for Great Britain at the closing ceremony.
  • Mark Colbourne
    Welsh athlete Mark Colbourne was left disabled after breaking his back in May 2009, when a paragliding accident caused him to fall 35 ft. to the ground. After his injury he began track cycling, under the C1 classification (riders on upright bikes with severe disabilities). Winner of ParalympicsGB's first medal of the Games with a silver in the C1-3 km time trial, he went on to win gold in the C1 3km individual pursuit, setting a world record time, he had previously beaten the record in the qualification rounds.
  • Oliver Hynd
    Oliver Hynd, along with his brother Sam, has neuromuscular myopathy, a degenerative condition affecting the strength of their legs. Unable to take part in many physical sports, they took up swimming. Sam went on to compete at the Beijing 2008 Games, winning gold in the 400m Freestyle, while Oliver won gold in the SM8 200m Individual Medley at London 2012.
  • Sarah Storey
    Sarah, who was born in 1977 without a functioning left hand due to complications in the womb, originally started out as a swimmer, winning six medals at the 1992 Games in Barcelona, but eventually switched to cycling due to an ear infection. At the 2012 Games she won ParalympicsGB's first gold medal in the Women’s Individual C5 Pursuit. She would win three further gold medals, in the Time Trail C4-5 500m, the Individual Road Time Trail C5 and in the Individual Road Race C4-5. She would carry the British flag at the closing ceremony along with David Weir. She is now the UK’s most decorated female Paralympic athlete, after having won another gold in Rio 2016.
  • Sophie Christiansen
    Born with cerebral palsy, Sophie first competed in the equestrian events at the 2004 Games, aged just 16.  At the 2012 Games, she was the first ParalympicsGB athlete to win three gold medals, in the Freestyle Test Grade la, Championship Test Grade la and in the Team Championship.
  • Eleanor (Ellie) Simmonds
    One of Britain’s most well-known Para-athletes, Ellie, born with Achondroplasia dwarfism, first competed aged 13 at the 2008 Games in Beijing, winning 2 gold medals. Competing again in 2012, she won gold once more in the 400m Freestyle, setting a new World Record time.  She also broke the World Record in the 200m Individual Medley when she once again won gold.

Media coverage at the event

The International Broadcast Centre/Main Press Centre (IBC/MPC) Complex was built to accommodate more than 20,000 broadcasters, photographers and print journalists. 

The Games were broadcast to over 100 countries, more than any previous Games. In the UK, broadcaster Channel 4 acquired the rights to the Games from the BBC, who had broadcast the Games previously, and had received criticism for their poor coverage compared to the Olympics. The BBC still retained the rights to broadcast the Games on radio. As well as this, the IPC broadcast 780 hours of free coverage on its YouTube channel, including live streams of events. 

Channel 4, who broadcast the Paralympics in the UK, utilised marketing to appeal to the masses, referring to athletes as 'Superhumans' and greatly focusing on the athletes through interviews and talk shows, allowing the public to learn more about them. 11 million people tuned in to watch the opening ceremony, Channel 4’s largest audience in a decade.

Channel 4’s coverage was the most extensive coverage of a Paralympic Games, with 150 hours of live broadcast, as well as talk shows discussing the events. An app was also launched, providing highlight reels and live streams with commentary and analysis.

As well as live coverage and news, Channel 4 launched an entertainment discussion show called 'The Last Leg'. Hosted by disabled comedian Adam Hills, along with Alex Brooker, also disabled, and Josh Widdecombe, the show aired every evening providing a humorous discussion of the events, as well as interviews with athletes. The show proved to be extremely popular, with more than 1 million viewers every evening. It now runs regularly throughout the year, still presented by Hills, Brooker, and Widdecombe, discussing political events of the previous week.

The closing ceremony

The closing ceremony was held on the 9th September at the Olympic Stadium, with the event themed around music festivals, a staple of the British summer, with the message being that of the power of music to bring people together. Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex, represented the Royal family, and arrived alongside Sir Philip Craven to mark the start of the closing ceremony. The national anthem was performed by Lissa Hermans, who is blind and autistic, and had made history by becoming the first person ever to release the national anthem as a single, to mark the Queens Diamond Jubilee that same year.

In honour of servicemen and women and the work of the Help for Heroes charity, double amputee, Captain Luke Sinnott climbed to the top of the flagpole and hoisted the Union flag, while Lance Corporal Rory McKenzie, a right leg amputee, climbed the steps of the Sundial stage to address the crowd, urging them to carry on the spirit of the Paralympic Games. After his speech, the flag bearers of the 164 nations were welcomed into the stadium, with each flag being carried by exceptional athletes representing their country. The British flag was carried by wheelchair athlete David Weir, along with cyclist Sarah Stoney, who had each won 4 gold medals during the Games. All the flag bearers were then organised into the shape of a heart, symbolising the spirit of the Games, and how the public had been inspired by the athletes.

A montage was played, celebrating the life of physician Dr Whang Youn Dai, who, after surviving polio at the age of three, dedicated her life to improving the welfare of people with disabilities in Korea, as well as advocating the use of sport as a rehabilitation method for patients. The Whang Youn Dai Achievement awards, first awarded at the Seoul 1988 Paralympics, recognising one male and female athlete who 'best exemplify the spirit of the Games and inspire and excite the world' went to Kenyan, Mary Nakhumicha Zakayo, a wheelchair track athlete who had been competing since 1992 and Irish athlete Michael McKillop, who won two gold medals in running events. The award was presented by Dr Youn Dai herself, along with Greg Hartung, Vice President of the IPC. The six newly elected members of the IPC Athletes Council were then presented, all are athletes who are voted on to the Council by other athletes during the Games.  Six representatives of the 17,000 volunteers over both the Olympic and Paralympic Games then arrived, to huge cheers from the crowd, and were each awarded a bouquet of flowers from one of the six athletes, thanking them for their contribution.

The main part of the ceremony then started, with Coldplay starting a festival of songs each representing the four seasons, alongside performances from Rihanna and Jay-Z and the British Paraorchestra.

The Paralympic anthem was performed by the British Paraorchestra to mark the beginning of the handover. Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, handed the Paralympic flag to Eduardo Paes, the Mayor of Rio de Janeiro, with representatives of the Rio 2016 team performing a samba routine. Sebastian Coe and Sir Philip Craven gave their closing speeches, with Sir Philip Craven describing the Games as,

the greatest Paralympic Games ever

Swimmer Ellie Simmonds, along with sprint runner Jonnie Peacock, had the honour of extinguishing the Paralympic cauldron, the flame being shared with torches across the stadium, to symbolise the eternal spirit of the Games. A spectacular firework display erupted above the stadium, signalling the end of the ceremony, and the end of the Games in London.

Memories of the Games

James Brown talks about the impact of London 2012

James Brown won his first gold as a runner at New York in 1984. He took bronze for Ireland in the cycling time trial in 2012. He reflects on the significance of the London Games here

Directly as a result of what happened in London I am proud to be disabled, whereas I was embarrassed to be disabled before.

Danny Crates on commentating on the 2012 Paralympics

Danny Crates was a successful middle-distance runner before he was invited to become one of the Channel 4 commentary team for the 2012 games. He describes the challenges of commentating on the Paralympics here

There’s no ‘triumph over adversity’ in the race. The triumph over adversity came five, ten or fifteen years earlier when you had your accident and you got yourself back. All you are trying to do now is beat another seven people of a similar disability class. It’s competition.

Tony Griffin talks about the significance of the Paralympics

Tony Griffin won his first gold medals as a cerebral palsy athlete at New York in 1984 for javelin and Indian club before going on to compete at another two Paralympic games. He reflects on the meaning of London 2012 for older athletes like himself here

I believe that today’s Paralympians will become future superstars and be recognised as such, pure and simply because that word ‘para’ means parallel to, not ‘disabled’… as such they are athletes first and disabled second, whereas when I was competing it was the other way around. 

Naomi Riches MBE talks about winnng gold at London 2012

Naomi Riches MBE is an adaptive rower who was part of the British mixed coxed four team talks about winning gold at the 2012 London 2012 Paralympic Games here

Light Up the World - 2012 Animation about the Paralympics

This film was made in 2012 involving over 500 young disabled and non-disabled young people in 24 schools across 12 Countries, and it was all produced virtually. You can watch it here

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