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London (AFP) - Prince Harry welcomed injured troops from around the world at the opening ceremony of the Invictus Games, where they will do battle across a range of sports.
The prince, a British army captain who fought twice in Afghanistan, is the driving force behind the four days of competition across nine sports.
Some 416 wounded troops from 13 countries -- both serving and veterans -- are to go for gold at the Olympic Park, site of the London 2012 Games.
Surrounded by the athletes, Harry spoke of his experiences serving in Afghanistan, evacuating injured soldiers, flying home with the wounded and meeting those recovering from their injuries in hospital.
"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," he said as he opened the Games on Wednesday.
"Each of them have come such a long way; even making it to the start line is a huge achievement.
"Your stories move, inspire and humble us. You prove that anything is possible, if you have the will. Welcome to the Games. Welcome to Invictus."
Though there will be plenty at stake for the injured service personnel, there is also a lot riding on them for Harry, who turns 30 on Monday.
Fourth in line to the throne, Harry is trying to carve out a more mature role for himself, away from the wild-child image of his younger days.
The opening ceremony, watched by 6,500 spectators, was held in the shadow of London's Olympic Stadium.
Harry was joined on the stage by his brother Prince William, their father Prince Charles, and their stepmother Camilla. William's pregnant wife Kate was to attend, but she could not due to acute morning sickness.
British Prime Minister David Cameron returned from the Scottish independence referendum campaign trail to attend.
- Prince to play 'murderball' -
The hour-long show began with a fly-past from the Red Arrows aerobatics display team, trailing red, white and blue smoke through the east London skies.
Golden Globe-winning east London actor Idris Elba, who played South African president Nelson Mandela in a biographical film last year, read the poem "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley, from which the Games take their name.
British soldiers in scarlet tunics and black bearskin hats went on parade before the competitors were led in by the six athletes from Afghanistan, the first two in wheelchairs.
The Australian contingent brought a blow-up kangaroo with them, while competitors grabbed quick photos with Harry.
The other countries taking part are Britain, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Georgia, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the United States.
King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery fired six pristine World War I field guns and charged around the park's South Lawn at full gallop.
Meanwhile in a video message, US First Lady Michelle Obama praised the courage shown by the competitors in confronting adversity.
"I want you all to know how proud my husband and I are of you and how humbled we are by your example," she said.
Mary Wilson, 50, from Edinburgh, is competing in the swimming and discus events. The former British army psychiatric nurse was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
"Everybody who comes here has gone through their own war," she told AFP.
Competitors are taking part in athletics, wheelchair rugby and basketball, archery, indoor rowing, road cycling, sitting volleyball, powerlifting and swimming events.
The Games wrap up Sunday with a 26,000-capacity sell-out closing concert headlined by the Foo Fighters.
On Friday, Harry is to put himself on the line in an exhibition game of wheelchair rugby -- nicknamed "murderball" for its ferocity.