Tom Degun: In a stunning Ceremony, Professor Stephen Hawking was a show-stealer
Thursday, 30 August 2012
It was truly superb and a fitting curtain-raiser for what I am sure will be a great Games.
But through all those bright lights, I saw clearly the shining star and show-stealer of the event.
It was Professor Stephen Hawking.
It had been confirmed shortly before the Ceremony began that Britain's greatest living scientist would make a rare public appearance for the historic event.
However, it still gave me goosebumps when the most famous disabled man on the planet took to the stage, causing a deafening roar from the 80,000 spectators in attendance at the Olympic Stadium.
It felt most appropriate that a man who has been paralysed for the majority of his life due motor neurone disease could deliver words via a speech generating device with the force of inspiration that no able-bodied person in the world could possibly match.
"Look up at the stars, and not down at your feet," said the 70-year-old from Oxford.
"Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist.
What followed was a truly dazzling Opening Ceremony from the hugely talented directors Jenny Sealey and Bradley Hemmings but for me, nothing could match Hawking; one of the most iconic symbols of human triumph over adversity.
His voice appeared throughout the Ceremony at various intervals as he delivered a series of new statements and messages that guided us through the show.
But it was his final address that was perhaps his most moving.
"The Paralympic Games is about transforming our perception of the world," he said.
"We are all different, there is no such thing as a standard or run-of-the-mill human being, but we share the same human spirit. What is important is that we have the ability to create."
All this came from a man with full mobility until he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease at 22.
Despite the disease slowly debilitating his body his mind remained brilliant and his key scientific works remain some of the most important in history.
His genius has earned him comparisons with Albert Einstein and Sir Isaac Newton and given him unlikely celebrity status, allowing him to appear in The Simpsons and Star Trek.
But his inspirational appearance last night is perhaps his most high-profile to date.
"I was delighted and honoured to be in the Ceremony," he said afterwards.
"It was a real pleasure to welcome the Paralympic athletes to London for such a special event.
"To use this stage to show the world that regardless of differences between individuals, there is something that everyone is good at, is very important."
Perhaps the most striking thing about his involvement is that Hawking is not a Paralympian.
He is not even an athlete.
But he was able to illustrate more than anyone in the Olympic Stadium why perceptions of disability must change.
The next two weeks of the London 2012 Paralympic Games will help reinforce that message as the world's greatest disabled athletes provide us with further inspiration through their displays of courage and true sporting brilliance.
Hopefully the whole nation will also get fully behind the Paralympics to help them replicate the huge success of the Olympics.
The support of the fans and everyone watching the Games is vital because, as Hawking showed, you do not have to be a Paralympian to be a big part of the Paralympic Games.
Tom Degun is a reporter for insidethegames and insideworldparasport