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2012 | London

The 2012 London Paralympics

By Jason Richards

As an athlete I know what it is like to pull on a Great Britain vest and compete for your country, to experience the intensity of training, to feel the adrenaline pump through your veins, to wait poised for the ‘B’ of the Bang and to unleash years of physical and mental preparation into a single event lasting minutes, if not seconds. 

However, as an athlete do I know how to spectate? 

At various events over the last 10 years I have sat on the sidelines cheering on fellow athletes, feeling their highs and lows of competition at an elite level, but only at competitions where I was racing myself. To spectate while you wait for your main event, or after you have given your all on the track, is very different to sitting on the sofa knowing that your moment is never going to arrive. 

Even as an athlete I watched footage of events to learn tactics and pick up technique but that was still very much in my own selfish pursuit of excellence. 

So sitting on the sofa through the summer months watching others journey into Paralympic glory or disappointment was a new experience and something I had reservations about at the outset. 

However, watching the opening ceremony and hearing the familiar voice of my friend Jeff Adams made me feel at ease with spectating and in fact gave me the opportunity to watch what was to unfold as a spectacle in itself. 

While wheelchair racing has always been my passion I did watch other sports during the weeks of Paralympic coverage. But it was the pursuit of four gold medals by David Weir that captivated my attention and was the only time I was on the edge of my seat cheering at the top of my voice to a small TV screen in the corner of my lounge. 

To have daily coverage throughout the games was a real breakthrough in terms of bringing Paralympic sport into the public eye. I thought most of the commentators were great, although some clearly did not understand the classification system. However, bringing Jeff Adams in to commentate on the wheelchair racing was like having Michael Johnson commentating on the 200 and 400m. Overall I think we showcased our Paralympic athletes, London and Great Britain to the world. 

What we didn’t do was adequately explain the classification system to the public, to our audience. While the sections on disability and classification broke up the events and helped, I was constantly asked to explain how the various sports are split down to create equality across a range of athletes and why people of such hugely varying disabilities were racing at the same time. Classification is a hot potato within disabled sport and there are many athletes who are borderline and difficult to classify, but we need to educate our audience so that they can understand the events and classification in more detail and become more deeply embedded into our world of Paralympic sport. 

Instead many people seemingly looked on in sympathy or bewilderment. Do people really now think we are ‘superhumans’? 

Whether we are or not is another matter altogether but what the games and the coverage showed, through the number of world records and outstanding performances, is that disability sport is becoming more professional, more elite and harder to attain at the highest level. 

I loved watching the games and realised I can spectate as well as compete. 

When asked at work if I had been inspired to take up sport after watching the games I simply shrugged my shoulders and replied “just tune in to the Great North Run on your television and see”.