London 2012 Paralympics
By Jane Sowerby
What an incredible Paralympic Games London 2012 gave us – definitely the biggest and best so far, and I’m convinced that the ‘inspire a generation’ slogan will be achieved. How could you fail to be inspired by the excellent performance of such a huge number of Olympic and Paralympic athletes?
I remember seven years ago, on hearing that London was to host the 2012 games, doubting that we could pull it off and worrying that the Paralympic athletes would not be given the recognition they deserve. I didn’t need to worry- thankfully the games were a huge success. I was absolutely blown away by the attitude of both the organisers and the general public towards athletes with disabilities.
Channel 4 did a fantastic job with their Paralympics coverage. Also, the fact that The Queen opened the Paralympic Games and huge acts like Coldplay, Rhianna and Jay-Z were involved in the closing ceremony helps send a very powerful message to the rest of the world. The wall of sound I encountered in the Olympic Stadium proves that the British public supports this positive attitude all the way.
The first event I went to was the rowing at Eton Dorney, the beautiful venue over in Surrey. Despite the slightly damp weather, the crowds had turned up in their masses, many proudly sporting union flag clothing and accessories. Unfortunately, someone I know with a spinal injury competing in the arms-only Single Sculls didn’t win himself a medal, despite having never been beaten at an international competition. My heart really went out to him. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have the kind of pressure that comes from competing at a home games when you are absolutely expected to bring home Gold.
However, a more successful athlete was over at brands hatch, her name was Karen Darke and she cycled for a silver medal. I personally find her very inspiring; she uses a handcycle similar to the one I regularly ride recreationally. She’s so fast though, achieving better times than a lot of the male competitors! The weather was absolutely perfect and I was impressed with access and facilities.
My favourite Paralympic moment though had to be ‘Thrilling Thursday’ in the Olympic Stadium. I feel so lucky to have been there to witness the triple success of Hannah Cockroft, David Weir and Jonnie Peacock. The 80,000 people packing out the stadium seemed to see past the disability of these athletes and were just overwhelmed by their exceptional sporting ability. I nearly lost my voice from screaming in the final stages of David Weir’s 800m win! Hearing the entire stadium chanting Jonnie Peacock’s name then blowing the roof off when he beat Oscar Pistorius in the 100m was an unforgettable moment. I felt incredibly proud to be singing the national anthem and watching the union flag raised for each of their victory ceremonies.
‘Blade Runner’ Oscar Pistorius has himself done an amazing job of raising the profile of Paralympic sport. He was the first double leg amputee to compete in the Olympics, qualifying for both the 400 metres and the 4 x 400 metres relay. I was there to see him win Gold in the 400 metres at the Paralympics. He has the same kind of status that Usain Bolt has in the Olympics, it looked like 99% of people in the stadium were trying to grab a photo as he did his victory lap (myself included!).
The thought that had gone into the facilities at all the venues was highly commendable. As I live outside of London, I decided to drive and was pleased to see plenty of Blue Badge spaces. In fact, at the Olympic Park, the whole car park at Westfield was reserved for Blue Badge holders. Plus it was free, always a bonus! All I had to do was book in advance and provide my registration number. It went very smoothly: I hope all other disabled spectators had a similar experience.
I can only hope that the legacy from the Paralympic success will live on. I really feel that it changed attitudes, revived confidence and will inspire many disabled people to realise that there is still so much they can achieve.