Invictus Games a showcase of human spirit - Harry


Prince Harry has declared the Invictus Games a showcase of the "very best of the human spirit" as the event launched with a opening ceremony filled with razzmatazz and military pomp.

The spectacular show was billed by Harry as a tribute to the "remarkable" injured servicemen and women and veterans from 14 countries who will go head to head in a range of sports over the next four days.

US first lady Michelle Obama, a long-term supporter of America's military veterans, joined Harry, as did Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, in the audience of thousands which filed the champion stadium at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex, home to the games.

The Prince has been the driving force behind the Invictus Games for injured, wounded and sick servicemen and women and veterans and staged the inaugural event in London to great acclaim in 2014.

Writing in the official programme to mark the launch ceremony in Orlando, Florida, Harry said: "Thank you for supporting these servicemen and women, veterans and their families. 

"The Invictus Games harnesses the power of sport to support rehabilitation, inspire recovery, and ultimately to enable those taking part to move beyond their illness or injury.

"Enjoy this exceptional opening ceremony, designed as a tribute to these remarkable men and women.

"The next four days will be a fantastic showcase of competition, camaraderie and the very best of the human spirit."

Invictus - Latin for unconquered - uses the power of sport to inspire the recovery of those who have suffered combat injuries, serious accidents away from the battlefield or debilitating illnesses.

The show began with the American national anthem being played by a military band and as the famous tune rang out the Blue Blasters - the US Navy Strike Fighter Squadron 34 Flyover - roared overhead in a tight formation of four jets.

The crowd was then treated to the sight and sound of the US Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, whose members wear period uniforms from the late 18th century, similar to those of the musicians of General George Washington's Continental Army.

During the games, more than 500 competitors from countries including Italy, Germany, Australia, Estonia, Jordan and the UK and Afghanistan will compete in 10 events - archery, indoor rowing, powerlifting, road cycling, sitting volleyball, swimming, athletics, wheelchair basketball, rugby and tennis.

The flags of each nation were paraded into the performance arena by cadets from the Liberty High School Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps. They were joined by the competitors and each nation was cheered by the crowd as it was announced. 

Also among the guests was former US president George Bush and his wife Laura. Mr Bush is honorary chairman of the 2016 Invictus Games and has made it a cornerstone of his post-presidential work to support US military veterans and their families.

Earlier in the day Mr Bush's institute hosted a symposium, attended by Harry, discussing the invisible or psychological and mental wounds military veterans can suffer.

Later, footage was shown on a giant screen of the battlefields of Afghanistan and injured veterans undergoing rehab. A voiceover from Harry was played and he told the audience: "I can only begin to imagine how challenging the journey of recovery is, but the admiration I have for these men and women to move beyond their injuries is limitless.

"Each of them have come a long way, even making it to the start line is a huge achievement. Their stories are amazing as they are unique, however they all share one thing - sport.

"Sport has been the vehicle to their recovery allowing them to channel their passion into what can be achieved rather than what can't.

"Your stories move, inspire and humble us. You prove that anything is possible if you have the will."

During the show British soprano Laura Wright performed the song Invincible to loud applause. The Invictus flag, which had travelled from the UK to the US, and made a stop at the White House, made the final leg of its journey by helicopter and was brought into the arena by US Staff Sergeant August O'Neill - who has battled back to full health and returned to service after losing a leg, due to a bullet injury.

Choirmaster Gareth Malone led a performance of a group made up of injured UK and US veterans who sang the song Flesh and Blood. He told the audience: "This choir came together for the first time just eight weeks ago. they have served heir country and now they have the scars both visible and invisible.

"Together they have written this song describing their experiences from injury through recovery to hope for the future."

The highlight of the night was a performance by James Blunt, a former Army officer, who played for more than 20 minutes, including his hit song You're Beautiful.