As we near the end of the London 2012 Games, I know I will look back on this summer as being an unexpectedly lovely, uplifting and heartwarming experience, as I have watched London come alive in celebration of both our country’s heritage and the achievements of the athletes who have come to compete here. I don’t usually get all mushy about these mass participation events, and I certainly wasn’t bothered by the Diamond Jubilee earlier this summer, but something about the Olympics being hosted right under my nose has been so exciting and inspiring. Unlike other such national celebrations in the UK, this hasn’t revolved around the monarchy, but instead has been about celebrating ordinary people with extraordinary abilities who have worked hard to achieve their success, and I for one am very happy to get behind that sentiment.
I have loved walking around London, seeing the signs and flags fluttering, seeing tourists from all over the world with their faces painted in their national colours and flags draped over their shoulders, seeing the Olympic volunteers in their pink and purple tops, seeing the rings and the Agitos symbols in all sorts of prominent places, and generally feeling the buzz of a city united in excitement and enthusiasm, proud of hosting a Games that is being lauded as one of the best since the modern Olympics began. However, as wonderful as soaking up the atmosphere has been, it’s not quite the same as actually getting to see the athletes performing in the flesh. I tried multiple times to get tickets, and had resigned myself to giving up, when last Friday I idly went onto the ticket website and was delighted to see available tickets for the Paralympics at a price I could actually afford on the last day of my holiday before starting work. Perfect! I swooped in and bought tickets for a range of events in the ExCel centre; sadly not in the actual Olympic Park, but an opportunity to see the athletes and the venues was not to be missed regardless!
So, early on Monday morning my mum and I got the train to London and headed out to the ExCel centre, surrounded by similarly excited people with their Team GB tops and flags and caps and all sorts of other patriotic paraphernalia. From the second we arrived at our stop, we were swept up in a wave of high spirits as the tube workers sang and danced their directions to the venue , the volunteers lining the route from the station to the entrance high fived and shouted greetings to us all, and music pumped out amidst the flags and banners depicting the various sports we were about to see. I could barely contain myself as we flashed our tickets and went into our first arena to see the Boccia.
Boccia is – from what I understand – a version of boules played in wheelchairs, and like all Paralympic events, there are different competitions within each event to ensure that athletes are playing against those with similarly matched disabilities. To be honest, it wasn’t the most thrilling event to watch, but this was because we didn’t really understand the scoring system and couldn’t always see the target the players were aiming for! However, it was great to see all the things you see on the TV; the umpires, the cameramen, the press, the coaches, the podiums…and the tears of the medal winners! After watching a couple of Boccia matches, we made our way over to the Table Tennis arena, where we watched a tensely fought match between the British and Slovakian female athletes who were battling for third and fourth place. The crowd were on their feet with every point the British athlete won – sadly she was defeated, but you’d never know from the whoops and cheers coming from the audience! At the same time we watched the Swedish athlete win Gold on the court behind; she was in floods of tears and we all stood up to applaud as she did her lap of honour. It was so lovely to watch someone achieve their dream.
Finally we rushed over to the Sitting Volleyball court to watch the English men’s team play the Germans; always a pairing of countries that guarantees an interesting competition!! We barely managed to get into the arena; it was absolutely packed, which was wonderful to see as I know that traditionally the Paralympics has far fewer spectators than the Olympics, and I think it’s a real shame that disabled athletes aren’t given the same support as their able bodied colleagues. The atmosphere was electric; the action was fast paced, powerful and incredibly tense. Despite a huge amount of support from the stands, the British team lost the match, but they looked absolutely thrilled at the turnout nonetheless and gave us lots of waves and thumbs up from the pitch when the game was over. I’ve never seen disabled athletes compete before, and it really opened my eyes to the diversity of sports there are to enable people who have a huge range of disabilities to participate in athletics, no matter how limited their movement or senses. The Paralympics is no less significant or thrilling as the Olympics, and I hope that London 2012 will pave the way for more high profile and well attended Paralympic competitions in future. I was humbled by the incredible triumph over adversity that I saw and I was thrilled to be able to see London 2012 in action and support our wonderful athletes. I have even been inspired to improve my own fitness…I’ve bought some trainers so who knows where this may lead…you might just see me at Rio 2016!!