Queen Elizabeth II to open 2012 Olympics

Danica Kirka

LONDON (AP) — Queen Elizabeth II’s busy summer calendar just got a bit more crowded.

Buckingham Palace said the monarch will open both the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics this summer, signaling that both events will be celebrated as great state occasions — something the British are famous for.

It is the first time the queen has opened the Paralympic Games, though she has often honored Paralympians for their achievements in the past.

Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip, will perform the ceremonial role at the 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium when the Olympic games begin on July 27, and for the Paralympic Games on Aug. 29.

“I think that this is great news for the games,” said Tanni Grey Thompson, one of Britain’s most successful Paralympic athletes, in an email. “I’m sure that it will make it very special for the athletes. It really raises it to another level.”

The queen follows in the footsteps of her father, the late King George VI, who opened the 1948 London Olympics, and her great grandfather, King Edward VII, who opened the 1908 London Olympics. Elizabeth also opened the 1976 Games in Canada, where she is the head of state, while Philip did so on her behalf at Melbourne, Australia, in 1956.

The decision to open both ceremonies caps a very busy year for the queen, whose Diamond Jubilee this year marks her 60 years on the throne.

The monarch, 85, and Philip, 90, are planning an extensive tour of the United Kingdom during the celebrations, including visits to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Philip is planning to stick to the schedule despite his December heart scare, which required the insertion of a stent to keep his coronary arteries open.

At home, the celebrations will include a flotilla on the River Thames, a gala concert in front of Buckingham Palace (with headliners including Paul McCartney and Elton John) and a carriage procession through the streets of London following a service of thanksgiving.

Unlike earlier jubilee celebrations, the queen will send her children and grandchildren on official visits to many Commonwealth countries rather than undertake the strenuous voyages herself.

She will be busy at the palace, though. Elizabeth will open Buckingham Palace to visitors from June 30-July 8 to accommodate Olympic activities. The palace then will close for a few weeks — until July 31 — before opening to the public as is the monarch’s usual summer practice.

Though it was long assumed that the queen, as head of state, would open the Olympics, her involvement in opening the Paralympics was not widely anticipated, as she normally takes her holiday at this time of year. Historian Hugo Vickers said that the decision reflects her interest in honoring the accomplishments of the athletes.

“They are going to be taken very seriously,” he said of the games. “I think it’s going to be great.”

Some 4,200 athletes will take part in the Paralympics Games from Aug. 29 to Sept. 9. The event marks the return of the games to their roots.

The Paralympics started in London in 1948 when injured veterans held the first disabled sport competition in archery.