Northern Ireland

London 2012: Paralympic torch relay to visit Belfast

Olympic flame
Image caption The Paralympic flame will be lit in London at the opening ceremony of the Games

The Northern Ireland sports minister, Caral Ni Chuilin, has urged the public to support the Paralympic torch relay when it arrives in the country next August.

A flame will be lit in the greater Belfast area on 25 August 2012 as part of the five-day relay which encompasses the other capital cities of the UK.

All the flames will eventually be united into one Paralympic flame.

It will arrive in London on 29 August for the opening ceremony of the Games.

Ms Ni Chuilin said the event was a "wonderful opportunity" for Northern Ireland to showcase its culture, heritage and sporting talent to the world and to be part of the "festival of celebrations" leading up to the Games.

"Individuals and communities will have a unique chance to become involved in the festivities and be part of this globally-significant event," she said.

"I would encourage everyone to take part."

Dame Mary Peters, who won a gold medal at the 1972 Olympics, also urged the Northern Ireland public to support the Paralympic athletes during the event.

"These athletes train just as hard, if not harder, than the able bodied athletes and it is absolutely right that they have their own torch relay," she added.

The plans for the Paralympic torch relay were announced by the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (Locog).

Once a flame has been lit, it will be taken to local community groups and key locations "in and around" each city.

Locog said that in each country, there would be a Paralympic Flame Festival, the last of which will take place in Stoke Mandeville, where a special ceremony will be held to bring together all four flames to create the Paralympic Flame.

It said that in preparation for these Flame Festivals, lantern-making workshops would be held each day and earlier in the summer.

Locog said people "from all communities" could participate in the Flame Festival finale, a lantern procession accompanied by specially selected torchbearers.

Training camps

Kevin O'Neill, director of Disability Sports Northern Ireland, said he had noticed an increased interest in disabilty sports by the public ahead of the Games.

He said the organisation was keen that the public "get behind the Games, the torch relay and the local athletes".

Mr O'Neill said there were a number of Paralympic medal hopes from Northern Ireland, with athletes from the region representing both Great Britain and NI and the Ireland teams.

"Most tend to compete for Ireland, people like Jason Smyth at the 100 metres and Michael McKillop the 800 metres runner. Both are tipped for gold medals and they are both current world record holders for their class," he said.

"Sally Brown is a runner in the British team, she is a young woman who is tipped to qualify and do well."

He said a number of teams had been looking at Northern Ireland as a training base for the Games.

"We are working with a number of teams, Ireland are coming to the Antrim Forum, that is the first time that they have come to Northern Ireland for a pre-Games training camp," he added.

"A delegation from Jordan has been over this week and we are hopeful there will be a commitment in the near future.

"In the next few months we are confident we will be able to announce some more pre-Games training camps."

Mr O'Neill said the Games were important in highlighting how people with a disability "can lead full and active lives".

"This is sport for people with a serious attitude and we want to get more kids involved in disability sport," he added.

A total of 580 torchbearers working in teams of five will carry the Paralympic Flame which will light the cauldron at the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Games.

Details about how torchbearers will be selected are to be announced at a later date.

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