LONDON, England (AFP) — London 2012 chief Sebastian Coe yesterday hailed crowds at the Paralympics, as venues hosting athletics events and track cycling to judo and swimming were packed.
The former two-time Olympic 1500m champion said he was “delighted” at the near 80,000 capacity crowd at the main stadium for the start of the track and field programme yesterday.
“Of course, it’s a very powerful and eloquent statement about the status of the sport,” he told a news conference at Olympic Park in east London.
“The question I guess many of you asked in the earlier days, certainly in the lead-up to this, was could we ignite the excitement and the interest? Well, yes we have.
“It was probably a better atmosphere in Aquatics Centre last night (Thursday) than there was just a couple of weeks ago, in large part because we’d actually got some very good and solid hometown performances last night.”
Organisers have said that the current edition of the Paralympics is the biggest and most high profile yet; with 4,200 athletes, including a record number of female athletes, from 165 countries taking part.
Most of the 2.5-million tickets have been sold and it is expected that crowds will spike for the first weekend of the Games, which notably sees South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius begin his quest to defend his three Paralympic sprint titles.
Pistorius — dubbed the “Blade Runner” because he runs on carbon fibre prosthetics — made history this month by becoming the first double-amputee to compete at the Olympics, reaching the 400m semifinal and 4x400m relay final.
Britain is considered the “spiritual home” of the Games, as the first recognised sports events for athletes with disabilities was held in Stoke Mandeville, southern England, in 1948, 12 years before the first Paralympics.