The Opening Ceremony of the inaugural Invictus Games took place on Wednesday evening in London.
Joining Prince Harry in the stands were the Prince of Wales, Duchess of Cornwall and the Duke of Cambridge. The Duchess of Cambridge was not able to make it as she is still suffering from an acute bout of morning sickness.
Over 6,500 people gathered on the South Lawn of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park for the military-themed ceremony.
The event began with a remarkable Red Arrows fly past after a short rendition of the national anthem by the Band of the Irish Guards, the Central Band of the RAF, and the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines, Collingwood.
Actor Idris Elba recited ‘Invictus’, the famous 1875 poem by William Ernest Henley that pronounces strength in the face of adversity.
The poem plays a crucial role in the ‘I AM’ emblem of the Games. The closing lines: ‘I am the captain of my soul; I am the master of my fate’, where the inspiration for the emblem and the Invictus Games. Flag bearers formed an ‘I AM’ that were visible from the aerial cameras.
Competitors from Afghanistan, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Georgia, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand and the USA, were part of the procession of the 416 athletes taking part in nine sports during the Games
The 130-strong British Armed Forces team arrived last to an enthusiastic round of applause from the crowd.
A fly past by helicopters, a rifle demonstration by the Queen’s Colour Squadron and displays by The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery were also part of Wednesday’s evenings event.
First Lady Michelle Obama delivered a video with a welcome to the Invictus Games. In her message, she noted: “Some of the most inspiring moments I have had as 1st Lady are when I’ve met wounded warriors like so many of you. You tell me that you’re not just going to recover but that you’re going to thrive.
In closing her message, Mrs. Obama commented: “To all the family members and caregivers in the audience, I want you to know that your courage doesn’t go unnoticed either. These heroes wouldn’t be here today without you. So I want to thank everyone involved in the Invictus Games, especially the Royal Foundation, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry for sharing these stories of strength and determination with the world. And while I can’t hide that I hope that Team USA won’t bring home a few gold medals, I want you all to know how proud my husband and I are of you and how humbled we are by your example. So good luck everybody and have fun out there.”
Then via the video message, The First Lady introduced Prince Harry.
Harry delivered a poignant message to those gathered for the inaugural event:
“Over the past eight years, I have witnessed the whole cycle of life changing injury; evacuating soldiers and local Afghans to hospital; flying home from Afghanistan with some of those critically injured; meeting others in Hospital coming to terms with life-changing injuries; and finally trying to keep up with twelve wounded veterans on our way to the South Pole. I can only begin to imagine how challenging the journey of recovery is, but the admiration I have for these men and women, to move beyond their injuries, is limitless. Last year, through The Royal Foundation, I visited the Warrior Games in the United States. Seeing people who, only months earlier, had been told they’d never walk again, now winning medals in front of their family and friends was breath-taking. I knew that anyone would be inspired by what these men and women had achieved, not just other Servicemen and women, but all those adjusting to life post injury. Each of them has come such a long way; even making it to the start line is a massive achievement.
Their stories are as surprising, as they are unique. However, they all share one thing – sport. Sport has been the vehicle for their recovery, allowing them to channel their passion into what can be achieved, rather than what can’t. No longer are these inspirational men and women defined by their injury but as athletes, competitors and teammates. Over the next four days we will see some truly remarkable achievements. For some of those taking part, this will be a stepping stone to elite sport but for others it will mark the end of a chapter in their recovery, and the beginning of a new one. Either way, you can be sure that, everyone who takes to the track, pool or field of play will be giving it their all. I have no doubt that lives will be changed this weekend. It gives me great pleasure to welcome the thirteen nations to London and to say how delighted I am that many of you are joined by your families, recognising the vital part they play in your recovery. The British public’s support for our Service men and women has been exceptional; I know they will show you the same over the coming days. Finally, I would like to thank you for the tremendous example you set. Your stories move, inspire and humble us. You prove that anything is possible, if you have the will. Welcome to the Games. Welcome to Invictus.”
The Opening Ceremony closed with a performance of Invictus Anthem composed by Coldplay’s Chris Martin and performed Tri-Service Male Singers, Urban Voices Choir and Service Bands.
The Invictus Games continues Thursday with competition beginning at Lee Valley Athletics Centre.
Photo Credits: Invictus Games 2014