Paralympians arrive as the flame is kindled


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The Independent Online

Seven-feet-tall basketballers are perusing the merchandise store. Kenyan middle-distance runners are having their hair done in the beauty salon. With under a week until the Paralympic Games' opening ceremony, the athletes' village is open for business, again.

About 2,500 Paralympic athletes and delegates checked into the village at the Olympic Park in Stratford yesterday, including 400 wheelchair users. Heathrow has built special lifts and other facilities in preparation, while airlines and international trains have been customising carriages to transport them all. Jaco Velloen, the South African wheelchair basketball team's power forward, all 6ft 11 of him, was among the first to venture down to the athletes' private "High Street" yesterday afternoon. "The rest of the team are in bed," he said.

The flames that will light the Paralympic torch were ignited on top of the UK's four highest mountains yesterday. Groups of Scouts trekked up Scafell Pike, Slieve Donard, Snowdon and Ben Nevis to light the flames, which will be transferred to London for a day of Paralympic celebration.

The thousands of Paralympians flying in from all around the world will bring all manner of specialist sporting equipment.

British Airways is flying in 300 wheelchairs, firearms, weapon bags, physiotherapist cases, bike boxes, tandem bikes, bow and arrows, hand cycles and boccia kits for the 12 days of the games.

Andy Lord, BA operations director, said it had been a "mammoth operation". "It is a privilege to fly thousands of athletes, their coaching teams and their sporting equipment into London for the Paralympic Games and follows on from the great service we delivered for the Olympic Games," he said.

China is expected to dominate the medal table again. Paralympics GB has been set a minimum target of 103 medals, one more than their haul from Beijing, though given Great Britain's success in the Olympics, the public will hope for far better. Among Britain's highest hopes are Ellie Simmonds – who won two golds in the pool aged only 13 four years ago – and Jonnie Peacock and David Weir on the track.

A total of 100,000 tickets to go to the Olympic Park during the London 2012 Paralympics were put on sale yesterday. The "non-event" tickets, which do not give access to venues, will cost £5 for adults and £1 for under-16s and the over-60s. They can be bought at