Will This Be First Paralympics to Sell Out?

Coming on the heels of the hugely popular London Olympics, the Paralympics starting this week in Britain are shaping up to be the most successful ever

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Justin Setterfield / Getty Images

Athletes begin arriving ahead of the 2012 Paralympic Games in London on Aug. 22, 2012

If you’re planning to buy a ticket to the Paralympics taking place in London from Aug. 29 through Sept. 9, you almost need to be as quick as the athletes who are competing. Last Wednesday, with exactly a week to go until the Games, organizers decided to put another 140,000 tickets on sale, and within three hours they were all gone. Not only have more than 2.3 million of the 2.5 million tickets for the Paralympics been snapped up, but 100,000 of the most recent 140,000 tickets only offered access to the Olympic Park, rather than to any actual events. “I’m thrilled that we can give even more people the opportunity to experience the Olympic Park, soak up the atmosphere and perhaps catch some Paralympic action on the big screen,” said Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London Games organizing committee.

So it goes in this most remarkable Olympic summer in Britain. The nation’s sports-mad fans celebrated Team GB’s impressive medal haul (65 medals, of which 29 were gold, making it the best return in over a century; Great Britain finished third in the gold-medal standings), and they’re eagerly anticipating similar success in the Paralympics, which could see GB end up in second, only behind the Chinese.

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Before the London Games, roughly 1.2 million tickets had been purchased for the Paralympics, but a further 600,000 were bought during the Olympics; now marquee sports such as track and field in the Olympic Stadium, cycling at the velodrome and wheelchair tennis at Eton Manor on the Olympic Park have pretty much sold out. “Our aim now is to sell every single ticket,” International Paralympic Committee chairman Philip Craven recently said. “It would be fitting that when the Paralympic movement returns to its spiritual birthplace … it does so in front of packed, sold-out venues [the original idea for the Paralympics stems from the 1948 Stoke Mandeville Games held in Britain for World War II veterans with spinal-cord injuries].”

To put the stellar ticket sales into perspective, consider that there have been 15 Paralympics since the Rome Games of 1960, and most have resulted in vast swaths of tickets being given away. Even though Beijing managed to sell a considerable 1.8 million tickets four years ago, that exact same amount was nonetheless also handed out in order to fill the stadiums. Athens only sold 850,000 tickets in 2004, although Sydney did sell 1.2 million back in 2000. Fans “are looking for another opportunity to come back to the venues and enjoy sport,” remarked Tim Hollingsworth, the chief executive of the British Paralympic Association, ahead of this year’s Games.

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The pricing certainly appears more competitive than with the recent Olympics, which generated some controversy over its $1,150 top-price AA ticket for track and field, and $3,200 for the opening ceremony. (Plenty of $32 tickets, however, were also made available across many events.) But for just $16, an ExCeL day pass offers entry into a host of Paralympic sports such as wheelchair fencing, powerlifting, table tennis, sitting volleyball and boccia. The most expensive ticket to a Paralympic sporting event costs $71, which is less than the cheapest ticket for the men’s 100-m final during the Olympics, and many are in the $16 to $24 price range.

The opening and closing ceremonies during the Paralympics aren’t exactly being sold for a pittance — top-price tickets will run you $790 for the former and $550 for the latter — but you’re still in for a set of shows that should rival the Olympics and sees the Queen return to open the Games (though it was confirmed on Friday by Buckingham Palace that Prince Philip won’t be attending because of his recent health issues). The opening ceremony is called Enlightenment and was conceived by artistic directors Jenny Sealey and Bradley Hemmings, who hope to shine a light on artists with disabilities. “We want our ceremony to be both spectacular and deeply human at the same time,” Sealey and Hemmings wrote in an e-mail to TIME. “Having worked together in outdoor theater over a number of years, we’re determined that the ceremony should speak from the heart, tell a story, demonstrate our world-leading deaf and disabled artists and rise to the emotional and historic occasion of the homecoming of the Paralympic Games.” And thousands of volunteers have given up their time for a curtain-raiser Coe called “a great showcase of the skills and excellence of disabled artists.”

(VIDEO: Sebastian Coe, Olympic Builder)

There’s a certain symmetry for the closing ceremony, which is called Festival of Flame. As with the Olympics, Kim Gavin, David Arnold and celebrated film director Stephen Daldry are reprising their roles as artistic director, music director and executive producer. Coldplay will headline the finale and front man Chris Martin fully understands the magnitude of the event, labeling it “one of the biggest nights of our lives.”

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