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Opening ceremony is starting gun for 2016 Paralympics

12:00am | & News

With the finest disabled sportsmen and women from around the globe gathered in Rio de Janeiro, the opening ceremony for the 2016 Paralympic Games takes place today.

It will mark the start of 11 incredible days of sport featuring some of the world's most remarkable athletes. Running until September 18th, the games will feature a wide range of events, all demonstrating that determination and dedication can overcome disability.

More than 270 athletes will be competing for the ParalympicsGB squad, hoping to surpass the remarkable haul of 34 gold medals won at the London Games four years ago. Swimmer Ellie Simmonds , double amputee runner Richard Whitehead and wheelchair athlete David Weir (pictured) will all be hoping to repeat their past gold medal successes, while cyclist Dame Sarah Storey has four opportunities to add to her tally of 11 gold medals and become Britain's most successful Paralympian of all time.

These are just a few of the  incredible athletes in the British squad, with a good spread of experienced Paralympians and competitors making their first appearance at the world's biggest event in disabled sport. The London Paralympics, four years ago, was widely credited with finally bringing the event out of the shadow of its long-established 'big brother', the Olympics, and celebrating the incredible achievements of Paralympians in their own right.

There have been some concerns around scaled back funding for the Rio games and disappointing ticket sales, but all that will be forgotten when today's opening ceremony gets the event under way. The games proper begin on Thursday, when the day's schedule will include athletics, shooting, cycling, swimming and powerlifting. The first day of the games will also bring Dame Sarah Storey's first chance to reach that remarkable milestone when she competes in the C5 Pursuit, hoping to gain her third gold at consecutive games in an event which she had dominated in the past.

Throughout the games there will be extensive TV coverage on UK channels, including morning highlights shows allowing viewers to catch up on events taking place in Rio as Britain slept. In total the Rio games will see athletes representing 176 countries competing in 528 events across 23 sports and in 20 venues.

The Paralympics has certainly come a long way since its origins at a British hospital almost seven decades ago, in 1948. Four years earlier Dr Ludwig Guttmann had opened a centre specialising in spinal injuries at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. The Second World War had meant a huge increase in disabled ex-servicemen, many of them amputees or with spinal injuries and loss of sight or hearing. Participation in sport was increasingly seen as an effective means of rehabilitation, and this was certainly the case at Stoke Mandeville.

On the opening day of the 1948 Olympic Games in London, Dr Guttmann organised his own competition for wheelchair athletes, calling it the Stoke Mandeville Games. Sixteen injured servicemen and women took part in that first event, competing in archery. Four years later, in 1952, Dutch ex-servicemen joined the movement and International Stoke Mandeville Games was born.

These pioneering events would evolve into the Paralympic Games, which first took place in Rome in 1960, involving 400 athletes from 23 countries. Since then the Paralympics have been held every four years, growing year on year, and with the first Winter Paralympic Games staged in Sweden in 1976.

Since 1988 for the summer games and 1992 for the winter games, the Paralympics have also been held in the same host city as the Olympics, usually the following month and using the same venues and infrastructure. In 1989 the International Paralympic Committee was founded to act as the global governing body of the Paralympic Movement.

For a day-by-day guide to the Rio 2016 Paralympics, including what events are taking place and which British competitors to look out for, click here.

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