Prince Harry has praised wounded warriors from around the globe for their stories that “move, inspire and humble” at the opening ceremony for the Invictus Games.
The sporting spectacular began with a rousing military-themed ceremony that celebrated the achievements of injured, wounded and sick servicemen and women, now competitors about to test their bodies to the limit.
The night was the culmination of months of hard work by Prince Harry who was inspired by the US Warrior Games and vowed to bring a larger event to the UK.
He has succeeded in his aims and teams from 13 nations will compete over four days in London from tomorrow in a range of challenging events.
In the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, the home of London 2012, His Royal Highness was introduced by US First Lady Michelle Obama who had recorded a video message for the launch.
The Prince told the 6,500 spectators who had watched the opening ceremony: "No longer are these inspirational men and women defined by their injury but as athletes, competitors and team mates.
“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.”
He ended with the passionate words; “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.”
Mrs Obama, who welcomed Harry to the White House last year, said in her message: "So to all of the competitors here today I just want you to know how incredible you are. You’re inspiring all of us, especially our young people.
“Inspiring them to believe that if we dig deeper, if we work harder and confront the adversity in our own lives with just a fraction of the courage you show every day, there is nothing we can’t achieve.”
Competitors from Afghanistan led the parade of teams and they received a standing ovation from the 6,500 spectators who filled stands in the shadow of the Olympic arena.
The crowds remained on their feet as the Afghans were followed by athletes from across the globe.
Unsurprisingly the largest cheer was for the UK team of 131 military men and women who, like their competitors, feature those still serving and veterans.
The opening ceremony had begun with the deafening roar of a Red Arrows fly-past, and they trailed red, white and blue smoke over the Olympic Park.
Actor Idris Elba read the Invictus Poem – from which the Games’ slogan I AM is taken – by William Ernest Henley.
A few moments later soprano Laura Wright strode onto a platform in the middle of the arena and performed Invincible, a piece written and recorded specifically for the Games.
Invictus Games chairman Sir Keith Mills told those watching the ceremony, elements of which were broadcast live on BBC1: "This evening we welcome the competitors and the friends and families that have supported them from 13 countries.
“Over the next few days we will experience some fantastic sport from some of the extraordinary competitors you see this evening.
“I am sure you will all join me in wishing them the very best of luck.”
There were also ceremonial displays by military units including the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery who received rapturous applause for their close precision riding.
The Prince’s speech was followed by a performance of the Invictus Anthem – penned by Coldplay frontman Chris Martin, and sung by three singers from the Armed Forces. They were joined by the Urban Voices Collective, the Countess of Wessex’s String Orchestra and the three service bands.