The second edition of the Invictus Games is coming up; a chance for injured and disabled servicemen and women and veterans alike to show off their sporting prowess. The first edition of the unique competition captured the hearts of the public and changed the lives of those who took part.
Prince Harry's passion project
The 'Playboy Prince', as he has sometimes been known, took a serious turn in 2014, when he introduced the idea of the Invictus Games to the UK. The Prince was inspired by a similar event in the US called the Warrior Games, held in Colorado in 2013, which showed how sports can deliver physical, social and psychological improvements for those whose bodies and, in some cases, minds have been irreparably damaged.
The Prince wanted to change the way in which our injured forces members are perceived and make sure that their fighting spirits and achievements are appreciated as much as their painful personal sacrifices. The word 'Invictus' was chosen to represent this vision for its meaning, unconquered, and the spirit of strength through adversity captured in the 1878 poem 'Invictus' by William Ernest Henley.
Support and funding was secured from a number of important figures and organisations including London Mayor Boris Johnson; the Olympic and Paralympic Games London Organising Committee; the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge; Jaguar Land Rover; the UK Treasury; and the Ministry of Defence. Over the next ten months the event was put together, with Prince Harry as the principal organiser and President, constituting a tribute to sport's power to help and inspire the injured and disabled to overcome their physical limitations.
The first Invictus Games
The first edition of the games was held in the UK from 10-14 September 2014. Some 400 competitors took part from 13 countries which have participated in military campaigns along with the United Kingdom. Participants came from Afghanistan, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Georgia, Italy, the Netherlands, the United States and New Zealand.
Five of the venues used for the 2012 Olympics were re-used for Invictus and the games were broadcast by the BBC. The event was hugely successful, inspiring and provided opportunities for so many other injured and disabled servicemen and women on their way to recovery. Some 65,000 spectators watched the events in London and more than ten million people watched the television broadcasts world-wide. The Invictus Games Foundation was set up after the first competition, with Prince Harry as its Patron, to organise future events.
Which events were included?
There were nine sports represented at the 2014 Invictus Games. In addition to athletics, archery, indoor rowing, power lifting, road cycling and swimming, participants competed in wheelchair rugby and wheelchair basketball. A more unusual event was also included in the form of a driving challenge organised by one of the event's sponsors, Jaguar Land Rover.
The venues were packed with tens of thousands of viewers and supporters of the forces members taking part, each of whom had made such sacrifices for their country. The 131 strong Team GB took gold medals in archery, athletics, wheelchair basketball, seated volleyball, cycling and swimming, plus silver in athletics and swimming and bronze medals for athletics, swimming and rowing. As the games were designed to focus on endeavour, camaraderie and friendship, no medals tables measuring national performance were released.
The Invictus Games concert
After a five thousand strong audience for a military-styled opening ceremony, the first games were closed by a spectacular concert lasting five hours and broadcast on BBC Two, presented by Greg James and Clare Balding. DJs Fearne Cotton and Nick Grimshaw were on duty at the event, hosting a variety of international performers including Bryan Adams, Ellie Goulding, Foo Fighters, James Blunt, Kaiser Chiefs and Rizzle Kicks, plus a speech by Prince Harry. A closing ceremony is on the schedule for the next games and is sure to be spectacular in true Walt Disney World style, but details have yet to be confirmed.
The second Invictus Games
The second edition of the games is to take place in Orlando, Florida at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort from 8-12 May this year. This time around there will be more than 500 athletes competing from 15 nations. Some extra events have also been added to the programme, in the form of sitting volleyball, triathlon and wheelchair tennis.
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins OBE and F1 champion Lewis Hamilton have been named as ambassadors for this year's event and Jaguar Land Rover will once again be a sponsor. The UK team has been training hard and has been visited by Prince Harry as they prepare for the competition. Tickets for the event go on sale on 7th March.
The Invictus Games Foundation hopes to create a lasting legacy for future events and is currently studying applications from potential hosts for the next games, to be held in 2018.