Paralympic torch lights up Ottawa

By BRYN WEESE, QMI Agency

OTTAWA -- The Olympics may be over, but don't put away your Canada flag just yet.

The 2010 Paralympic Torch was lit in Ottawa Wednesday for the March 12-21 games in Vancouver and Whistler, the first ever Paralympics held on Canadian soil.

And according to Olympic officials, they are every bit as important as the Olympics.

"It's not over. It's not nearly over," said John Furlong, the CEO of the Vancouver Olympic Committee, at the torch lighting ceremony on Parliament Hill Wednesday that was attended by hundreds of people.

"We're at the half-way point in this great adventure. Now we're about to start phase two," he added. "We've always referred to this as two games inside of one big festival."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who attended Wednesday's torch ceremony, wished the more than 60 Canadian Paralympians luck, saying they were "providing our children with a new generation of role models with a new generation of heroes."

The Olympics that just finished, he said, was a "patriotic outpouring" not seen in a "very long time.

"And now all eyes will be on you, our Paralympic athletes, to carry with you the pride of our country as you gather in Vancouver to compete agains the World," Harper said.

The Paralympic Flame, which was lit by an Algonquin fire ceremony on Victoria Island on the Ottawa River, will travel to Quebec City and Toronto before arriving in Vancouver March 12 for the Paralympic opening ceremony at BC Place.

In total, there will be 600 athletes from more than 40 countries competing in the Winter Paralympics. It's about one-fifth the size of the Winter Olympics.

But its heart is just as large.

"What the Paralympic Games does better than any other event in the world is it shows young people what's possible, because most of the athletes have confronted significant adversity," Furlong said. "They've overcome that adversity, they have remarkable athletic skills, they have a disability they've managed to set aside and compete at the highest level."

More than 50 hours of the 2010 Winter Paralympics will be broadcast on TV, a first in Paralympic history, and its also the first time ever that a host city has celebrated both the Olympics and Paralympics "on equal footing," according to Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson.

"Typically, in the past, the Paralympics have been a separate thing. They've been staged differently and scaled down considerably," Robertson said. "It's crucial that the Paralympics are held on the same level as the Olympics and to respect the athletes who compete in the same way.

"The sports are every bit as challenging and require incredible commitment and dedication. It's a great celebration of human spirit overcoming daunting challenges."

POLL