Torch bearers carry the Paralympic flame outside Westminster Abbey in London August 29, 2012. (Photo : Reuters)
The Paralympic Games kicked off today in London with an Opening Ceremony led by British physicist Stephen Hawking. The ceremony, called "Enlightenment," features a record 4,200 athletes from 164 National Paralympic Committees, the BBC reported.
The Games are the largest in history and is expected to be a near- or complete sell-out, USA Today reported.
Coventry University Ian Britain explained the unexpected popularity to USA Today, the Paralympics "were born here, they're coming back home for the first time since 1984 and we've had television coverage of the Paralympics since 1980. So we've been indoctrinated, to some extent."
USA Today also reported that the Games have continuously added sports and opened up to more athletes. According to the report, athletes with any one of six kinds of disabilities are able to participate.
Nations are also helping boost popularity by actively searching for future generations of Paralympians, the report said.
British wheelchair rugby player Ross Morrison told USA Today, "In my previous Games, Athens and Beijing, people were interested, and they were proud, but they saw (the Paralympics) as an add-on. Now people are seeing that the Paralympics are just as good as the Olympics."
The Games' opening ceremony included Queen Elizabeth, who declared the Games open, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. The Queen's grandson, Prince Harry, was noticeably absent, despite shooting a promo for the Games. The Prince has been caught up in a scandal the past couple of days after naked photos of him emerged from his Las Vegas trip.
The Paralympic Games is scheduled to end on September 9.
Prince Harry's Paralympic Promo: