Prince Harry opens Invictus games for military disabled

Britain's Prince Harry delivers remarks during the opening ceremonies for the 2016 Invictus Games in Orlando, Florida, on May 8, 2016.
Britain's Prince Harry delivers remarks during the opening ceremonies for the 2016 Invictus Games in Orlando, Florida, on May 8, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

MIAMI (AFP) - Britain's Prince Harry on Sunday (May 8) opened the Invictus games for disabled war veterans and awarded the first gold of the 2016 event to France.

Harry, fifth in line to the throne and patron of the games, welcomed sportsmen, women and supporters to the huge event in Orlando, Florida, being broadcast by sports network ESPN.

"Their stories are as amazing as they are unique. They focus on what can be achieved, rather than what can't," Harry said of the ex-servicemen and women, many of whom are amputees, who suffer higher than average rates of depression as well as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury.

US First Lady Michelle Obama, who has actively promoted the event, said the Invictus games are "about shining this big, bright light on all of you ... so that we all can be inspired to live up to your example." She also joked that the home team should take it easy on the visiting competition. "I have generously asked the US team not to win too much," Obama said at the opening festivities.

Former US president George W. Bush, the Orlando event's honorary chair, and actor Morgan Freeman were also present.

Singer James Blunt - a former soldier in the British army - and soprano Laura Wright performed during the ceremony.

The Invictus games feature more than 500 competitors from 15 countries, facing off in 10 events including athletics, swimming, sitting volleyball, cycling and wheelchair versions of basketball, rugby and tennis.

The games are aimed raising awareness of the needs of veterans - many of whom lost limbs in combat zones - to adapt to their "new normal" after life-changing experiences.

The prince himself served in the British army and performed tours of duty in Afghanistan.

Archery, athletics and powerlifting were among the events on Sunday's opening day.

Harry also presented the first gold medal of the games to France's Rober Philippe and Rebujent Henri in the Jaguar Land Rover Driving Challenge.

The French team triumphed in the test of communication, teamwork and strategic planning skills.

Estonia's team of Kristjan Roivas and Ergo Mets won the silver and Denmark's team of Rasmus Moeller and Flemming J.R. Nielsen took bronze.

During a visit by Harry to the White House in October, US President Barack Obama lauded the Invictus games as a way to make sure people see not only the sacrifices wounded warriors have made, "but also the incredible contributions, strength and courage that they continue to display." The Obamas and Harry traded playful taunts on social media ahead of the games.

Michelle Obama told Harry in a mock-threatening video posted on Twitter that the British better watch out for the US side. Harry's response featured his grandmother Queen Elizabeth II, who scoffed at the Americans' confidence.

"Really, please!" she quipped.

Not to be outdone, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau posted a video featuring him doing pushups followed by a "drop the mike" moment, flanked by Canadian competitors.

The Invictus games, first held in London in September 2014, continue until Thursday in Orlando.