A day at the London Paralympics 2012
At first we couldn’t quite believe we were there. I mean, actually at in the London Olympic Park. Having watched enthralled as three weeks of Olympic Games 2012 played out on our TV in a suburb of Glasgow, it seemed surreal that Little Miss Outdoors and I were now sitting on plastic seats in the Aquatics Centre in the east end of London. But it was real – and on Sunday we enjoyed three hours of Paralympics swimming followed by three-and-a-half hours of athletics in the Olympic Stadium. And we loved it.
Earlier this year, I had been disappointed when we didn’t win any Olympics tickets in the first ballot round. But then, I figured, we would probably have a better view on the TV. As other tickets became available I checked them out and looked at prices, but it just seemed too expensive, or else the sports available weren’t the kind we were so interested in watching.
Friends, meanwhile, did buy up tickets and they came back from their trip to London on a high, revealing how the atmosphere was “electric” and “magical”.
Then a conversation with the Mighty Vickster had us considering Paralympics tickets. MV had spent some time training on a tandem with a blind Scottish cyclist and she was keen to see the track cycling at the Paralympics. As it turned out, all these tickets had been bought by the time we looked on-line but there were many other events still available. The prices were much more reasonable, too. I ended up buying an adult’s ticket for the athletics for £45 (Little Miss was a £5) and paid £20 for a swimming ticket (again, Little Miss cost £5). MV and her partner, The Boy, joined us for the athletics.
I was initially worried that the Paralympics wouldn’t be as exciting because we didn’t know many of the names of the athletes. And there was a part of me that wondered if the sporting achievements would seem less amazing, when compared to the stars in the Olympics. But I was wrong on both counts.
This Paralympics is destined to be the most successful ever. Tickets have sold out and the atmosphere on Sunday in the Olympic park was awesome.
We watched in awe as a range of disability categories took part in swimming heats and relays. The categories were distinguished by different levels of physical and mental impairment and so many times Little Miss and I commented on the incredible courage and athleticism displayed by so many paralympians.
1–10: Athletes with physical impairments. Class 1 swimmers’ impairment has the greatest impact on their ability to perform strokes; class 10 swimmers’ has the least impact.
11–13: Athletes with a visual impairment. Class 11 swimmers have little or no sight; class 13 swimmers have limited sight.
14: Athletes with an intellectual impairment compete in class 14.
In one medley heat for more severely physically impaired athletes we watched in stunned amazement as a man with no legs and only a third of the length of each arm swam 150m. His heat included several men without the use of their legs and men with just one arm. It seemed incredible that the athletes could record such amazing times.
The final relay heat of the morning was superb. With the Aussies leading for the almost the entire 34-point event (the points of four relay athlete’s disabilities can add up to no more than 34 points). With just one swimmer to go the Brits were a full 25m behind. But he caught up and in the last few metres edged in front to win. The Aquatics centre erupted with cheers, clapping and whistling in celebration of an awesome GB win.
In fact, similar happened later that day in the Olympic Stadium.
A night at the Paralympics Athletics
Sitting in row six, with a brilliant view of the track, MV, The Boy, Little Miss and I spent more than three hours entranced by a range of track and field events. The T42 women’s long jump final played out in front of us. Various 100m, 200m and 400m heats and finals showcased the athletic prowess of men and women with a range of challenging disabilities.
Classes 11–13 are for athletes with a visual impairment.
Class 20 is for athletes with an intellectual impairment.
Classes 31–38 are for athletes with cerebral palsy, with classes 31 to 34 using a wheelchair to compete.
Classes 40–46 are for athletes with a loss of limb or limb deficiency.
Classes 51–58 cover wheelchair racers or field athletes who throw from a seated position.
There was javelin for T44 and discus for T12 (blind and partially sighted). They all offered great viewing and nail-biting finishes. Throughout the evening medal presentations took place and whenever a British paralympian took a medal the stadium suddenly exploded with excitement.
This wasn’t to say that the support for other countries and athletes was absent and in fact the enthusiastic cheering and clapping was deafening through every race and event. But when a GB athlete took to the podium the cheering was even more raucous. At one point I nipped to the toilet and could hear the massive sound of cheers from inside the stadium. It was immense.
Then came the final of the T54 5k wheelchair race. We had GB athlete David Weir to watch. This was a technical event and the tactics were fascinating to see. At times the front wheelchair athlete would slow, then another would speed up and many were keen to take advantage of drafting techniques and all kinds of clever manoeuvring.
It was impossible to tell as a novice spectator of this event how Weir was doing. And then, in the last 400mm the race suddenly sped up and the entire crowd stood up to cheer on our athlete. The excitement was palpable and as Weir edged into the lead in the final 100m the roaring of the spectators was almost overwhelming. He won, and a standing ovation proceeded as David did another celebratory circle of the track. His face said it all. Relief and excitement, joy and determination.
We left the Olympic park with the sound of cheering ringing in our ears – and a sense that the memory of this day would stay with us for the rest of our lives.
A PS: In a taxi on the journey from Glasgow airport to our home the following day, the driver and I were talking about the Paralympics. He said that initially he had worried that the event would be a kind of “freak” show. But we went on to talk about how his views changed when he tuned into some of the Paralympic events on the TV. “I was just amazed,” he said. “It wasn’t freakish at all, but more amazing because of their disabilities.” It is clear to me that the huge excitement around the London Paralympics 2012 will only be an asset for disabled people going forward. Their achievements, amazing athleticism and ability, often when faced with severe physical and mental impairments, is being showcased for all to see. There is nothing freakish about this, it’s just utterly inspiring.