By Nick Butler at Stoke Mandeville Stadium

The magnificent lighting of the Flame involving London 2012 athletics champion Hannah Cockcroft ©ITG March 1 - Stoke Mandeville's historic role as the birthplace of the Paralympic Movement was acknowledged tonight in a Flame Lighting Ceremony passing in a colourful yet symbolic cascade of sparks and fireworks.

The Flame was lit with an "Armillary Sphere" - a model of stars and planets in the sky more than six metres tall and six metres in diameter - with the spark of the Flame spectacularly rising from the chair of London 2012 athletics gold medallist Hannah Cockcroft as she was suspended inside the sphere.

This moment was followed by the lighting of the Torch and Cauldron by Paralympic veteran Caz Walton, whose career spanned eight Games stretching back to Tokyo 1964 and included 10 gold medals across three different sports. 

After this, aspiring Para-skier Andy Barlow symbolically transferred the Heritage Paralympic Flame to Sochi, before Denise Knibbs, representing Buckinghamshire's communities, lit Britain's Paralympic lantern.

The four Flamelighters light the Torch to conclude the Ceremony @ITGThe four Flamelighters light the Torch to conclude the Ceremony @ITG

After a lengthy negotiating process with the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), the Flame Lighting Ceremony at Stoke Mandeville is now a mandatory part of all Paralympic Torch Relays to recognise the hospital's founding role in the Movement ever since 1948 when German physician Sir Ludwig Guttman began organising sports for his patients.

On an evening likely to be far colder than the weather in Sochi during the Games, a combination of dignitaries and ordinary spectators joined together is what felt - until its dramatic conclusion at least - like a relaxed English country fair-style event.  

A firmly British feeling was boosted by the choice of legendary actor Sir Ian McKellen as the narrator for the poem "I am the Flame", which emotionally expressed the vision of the Heritage Flame to begin the Ceremony.

Following this, the Paralympic Anthem was played before speeches by both IPC President Sir Philip Craven, and Sochi 2014 President and chief executive Dmitry Chernyshenko.

After outlining the role of Sir Ludwig and the success of the London 2012 Games, Sir Philip described how "tonight, six days before the start of the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, we start to write another chapter".

"This chapter that will ensure that for all future Paralympic Games, Stoke Mandeville and Great Britain is recognised globally as the birthplace of the Paralympic Movement," he added.

"From now on, and for all future Paralympic Games, Stoke Mandeville will always stage one leg of the Paralympic Torch Relay celebrating the past, present and future of the Paralympic Movement in this country."

In a rare trip away from Sochi between the Olympic and Paralympic Games, Chernyshenko added that is was "the greatest honour to be here in the birthplace of the Paralympic Movement" because "Paralympic sport has the unique power to inspire and excite the world".

"This Paralympic Flame has already ignited inspiration and excitement in nine time zones, from Russia's far east, through Siberia and the Urals, to the north west of the country," he explained.

"The Sochi 2014 Paralympic Torch Relay is touching hearts and minds in every corner of Russia ready for the greatest ever celebration of Paralympic winter sport."

Among the speakers during the Ceremony was Sochi 2014 chief Dmitry Chernyshenko ©ITGAmong the speakers during the Ceremony was Sochi 2014 chief Dmitry Chernyshenko ©ITG

After the speeches, a specially commissioned animated film entitled "Hephaestus" was played to the audience, outlining the background and concept of the Armillary Sphere.

As the crowd then withdrew back to warmer surroundings, the Heritage Flame began its journey, which will incorporate several landmarks in Buckinghamshire and London, including Trafalgar Square over the next two days, before departing to Russia.

As outlined by Chernyshenko, the Russian leg of the Relay is also continuing in Sochi, where the Flame was yesterday lit and handed to torchbearers in four cities in the Urals of Yekaterinburg, Tyumen, Khanty-Mansiysk and Noyabrsk.

On Wednesday (March 50 all the various Flames, including the Heritage Flame lit tonight, are due to combine into one Paralympic Flame to be used in the final legs of the Relay before the Opening Ceremony in Sochi two days later on Friday (March 7)

Contact the writer of this story at [email protected]

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