Baroness Grey-Thompson DBE to light Heritage Flame

  |  Published: Aug 28th 2016
Tanni Grey-Thompson won two gold medals at the Olympics in Athens in 2004. Photo copyright BBC, 2004.
Tanni Grey-Thompson won two gold medals at the Olympics in Athens in 2004. Photo copyright BBC, 2004.

Paralympic legend Baroness Grey-Thompson DBE is to take centre stage at Stoke Mandeville on September 2 at the historic Heritage Flame Lighting Ceremony.

Tanni Grey-Thompson, one of the most successful Paralympic athletes in UK history, will light the Rio 2016 Heritage Flame - the climax of a spectacular televised ceremony.

Organisers from the Bucks Legacy Board this week revealed the news of her involvement as they pledged to make the events in Stoke Mandeville and Aylesbury an integral and unforgettable part of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

The Heritage Flame Lighting Ceremony is part of the lead-up to the fifteenth summer Paralympic Games. Stoke Mandeville, as the birthplace of the Paralympic movement, is the only venue outside the host nation of Brazil to play a role in creating the Paralympic Flame at the opening ceremony. The Heritage Flame will combine with others travelling to Rio from across Brazil to ignite the flame which marks the start of the Paralympic Games on 7 September. This tradition began two years ago before the Sochi Winter Games and followed the lighting of the Paralympic Torch and start of the Paralympic Torch Relay in 2012.

Baroness Grey-Thompson said: “I spent most of my childhood at Stoke Mandeville. It’s such an important part of the Paralympic movement and it’s great it’s being recognised around the world. It’s where it all began.”

“It’s going to be an incredible ceremony and really nicely thought out. I’m really excited about being there - it’s going to be very moving.”

While an audience of 1,400 ticket holders will witness the Heritage Flame being lit at Stoke Mandeville Stadium, thousands more will be celebrating in a carnival atmosphere in Aylesbury’s Vale Park to give the Flame a fitting send-off as it is transferred to Rio.

Baroness Grey-Thompson urged the public to flock to the event in Vale Park, particularly as a way of showing their support for the GB team who are competing in Rio.

“It’s going to be a massive celebration and a really good party,” she said. “People should come along – it shows the support for the Paralympics. It’s a great way to wish good luck to ParalympicsGB.”

The Baroness, 47, is a former British wheelchair racer, now a member of the house of Lords, speaker and television commentator. She was born with spina bifida and joined the British Wheelchair Racing Squad aged 17, competing in the Paralympic Games over 16 years and winning eleven gold, four silver and one bronze medals - breaking 30 world records during her glittering career.

Penny Mordaunt, Minister of State for Disabled People, Work and Health, said: “This will be a fantastic celebration of the Paralympics and their importance in transforming global attitudes to disabled people. The Games are testament to the potential disabled people have and I want to make sure that legacy is carried beyond sports stadia to the wider population.”

Tim Reddish OBE, Chairman of the British Paralympic Association, said: “It is important for the growing Paralympic movement to honour its birthplace. We are rightly proud of our role in the history of the Paralympic movement. It will make me very proud to be sat in the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games Opening Ceremony which will feature the Heritage Flame lighting here in Stoke Mandeville and then to welcome the ParalympicsGB team. This will be our most competitive team at the most competitive Games yet. We know that the performances of the team in Rio will inspire a better world for disabled people.”

Martin McElhatton, member of the Bucks Legacy Board which has organised the Heritage Flame Lighting Ceremony, said: “As the place where the Paralympic movement began it is important for Stoke Mandeville to play its part in supporting the success of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. This event will celebrate the achievements of Paralympians throughout the decades and the inspirational vision of founder Sir Ludwig Guttmann. Thanks to Arts Council England and our partners we are able to make this a truly memorable occasion and it’s not too late for other organisations to show their support and solidarity. It is wonderful that we can send the Heritage Flame and our good luck wishes to everyone taking part in the Games in Rio from the spiritual home here at Stoke Mandeville.”

During the daytime on 2 September, Stoke Mandeville Stadium will also host the ParalympicsGB Carnival, the first of six family-friendly activity days around the UK organised by the British Paralympic Association and supported by the Spirit of 2012. This free fun day at the Stadium offers a chance for anyone and everyone to meet Paralympians, try out Paralympic sports, talk to those involved in running them and discover what is available in their own area.

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