Paralympics keeps flame burning

Christine and Mark Holland Christine and Mark Holland wear the GB colours with pride

It's the same - just different.

Spectators have been soaking up the atmosphere in the Olympic Park on the first day of Paralympic sporting action.

The crowds seemed unperturbed by the blustery, rain-strewn day in Stratford.

With events in the Aquatics Centre, the Velodrome, the Basketball Arena, and the Copper Box, fans roamed across the park, many wearing their country's national colours with pride. The medal hunt was on.

The fact that the Paralympics and its requirements were factored into the park from the planning stages mean the look and feel of the place has not changed drastically.

The now-familiar landmarks of the stadium, the soaring Orbit and the velodrome are still there - as are the flowers and rolling landscape around the 14m-high Park Live screen floating in the River Lea. Police and purple-clad Games-makers are still smiling and bantering with the punters.

Pathways and the Park Live area seemed less busy than at peak times during the Olympics, but that may have been down to the sporadic showers and the fact major venues like the Olympic stadium were not in action on Thursday: The excitement among the fans in the park was palpable.

Mascot House

There have been some changes to the site. Some seats have been removed to allow more wheelchair spaces.

Mascot House Mascot House is proving popular with the youngsters

And one of the merchandise shops has turned into Mascot House - a themed area for children to meet, draw and play with live versions of Wenlock and Mandeville.

It's a big hit with families. Forty-minute queues were forming outside the building on Thursday afternoon, with Games-maker Martin Mitchell urging patience from eager youngsters.

"It's really popular with the kids," said the 64-year-old artist from Bow. "There's not much else for them here, really."

Another Paralympic development is the multi-sport passes which allow spectators to dip in and out of different sports.

Alison Walsh had bought Olympic park tickets for her sister and family from Manchester, and had just seen Japan play against Canada in the wheelchair basketball.

"It was much faster than I thought it would be - and physical," said Ms Walsh, from Stoke Newington. "It was quite violent!

"I saw the Olympic park tickets and thought it was a brilliant idea.

"It's actually really easy to get into events and out again. So we're going to go and see some goalball."

Wobbly tooth

For those who visited the park during the Olympics, one major change has been the replacement of Olympic ring signage with the three swooshes of the agitos - the symbol of the Paralympics.

The Hext family The Hext family - complete with wobbly-toothed Charlie

"It's quite a significant change," said Dave Hext, from Cheshire.

He and wife Kate were taking children Amy, nine, and six-year-old Charlie to the Orbit.

The family had enjoyed watching Tom Daley compete in the synchronised diving at the Olympics, as well as hockey at the Riverbank Arena, but were every bit as excited to be in the park during the Paralympics.

"In some respects, it's more of an event than the Olympics... for the message it sends young children across the world opening everyone's eyes to what these athletes can do so " said Mrs Hext, an orchestral musician.

The family were taking in four days of Paralympic sporting action and had also been at Wednesday's opening ceremony.

The children had loved the show - especially the giant floating whale which roamed the stadium during Miranda's stormy voyage of discovery.

Charlie was just disappointed he couldn't contribute to the mass apple-biting moment: a wobbly tooth meant he couldn't crunch on his apple properly.

Also at the opening ceremony were Weston Supermare couple Christine and Mark Holland, who said they had tried and failed to get tickets for the Olympics.

"We were on the ticketing website 24-7 in vain," said Mr Holland. "But we're ecstatic to be here, and be part of the atmosphere, now."

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