Sorry for my blackout yesterday – another pound in the pot. But, unlike the American media, I was present at the Paralympics.
I bought the tickets after failing to get tickets to the Olympics. But I am glad I failed. The experience in the stadium was mind-blowing.
As many others have reported the transport, signage, support from volunteers and efficiency in getting you in and out of the park was all faultless. As we snaked our way through the park to the outer ring of the stadium and started to ascend the steps to our seats, the view as we mounted the final step into the stadium itself was spectacular. Made all the more special after seeing it so many times on telly during the Olympics. I was trying to transpose the images in my mind from the opening ceremony and the athletes victory parades on TV and place it in the stadium before my eyes. I couldn’t. It was both familiar and surreal all at the same time.
Once we had settled into our seats, nothing had prepared us for the awesome display of achievement by professional athletes who stretched their physical abilities to the max and then gave even more because the crowd wanted them too. Tears were in our eyes as Houssein Omar Hassan, the only competitor from African country Djibouti, fought against the pain in his achilles tendon to continue jogging his 1500 metre race long after the race had finished for the other competitors. We willed the lone man on the track as he completed each lap and every one in the stadium gave him a standing ovation as he crossed the finish line. The roar of the crowd was deafening – so was the raw of emotion as we could all see what a challenge the race was for Hassan but his determination to finish was awe-inspiring.
As the first of the women athletes lined up for the start of the 100metre heat we were stunned to realise that they each had a guide because they were blind. As the starting gun went each athlete sprang from the starting blocks hand-in hand with their guides who had to keep up with the stunningly quick pace but be careful to cross the line after, not before, their athlete. In the 200 metres the women just gently leaned into their guides as they rounded the bend before the straight and it struck as all at the courage these athletes had to run as fast as they could possibly go with only the noise of the crowd to will them on and the reassuring feel of their guide’s presence. We couldn’t begin to imagine what that must feel like. If the guides weren’t there they would have no looked no different to the female 100 metre and 200 metre olympic athletes.
Finally there was Richard Whitehead who came from nowhere out of the bend in the track to cross the line like an intercity train and claim gold. His blades aren’t designed to bend round corners. So, at first, there was a slightly disappointed hush as the race started and Richard was way behind going round the bend. But as the track straightened Richard’s speed rocketed as his marathon-like stamina and athletic power came into force. As he went from 0-60 in lightning quick time so did the noise from the crowd as they realised he was blitzing the competition for Team GB. The noise reached such a cacophony that my ears began to ring as if I was standing too close to a giant speaker. It was spine-tingling, hair standing on end stuff.
Why do I believe the Paralympics is better than the Olympics? The athletes are no different in their approach to their careers, their determination to succeed and their level of competitiveness. They are not there because of their disabilities they are there because of their talent and their ability. But to pursue your talent regardless of the fact that you can’t see the track you are running on, or that you can only use one leg, or only your upper body because your lower body just does not function or that your muscles spasm randomly or that you can’t hear the world around you ……….that can only come from strength of mind and something else that isn’t tangible or understood but can be best described as superhuman.
Yesterday we watched superhumans in action in the glorious setting of the Olympic Stadium at London 2012.
I’m so glad that my 6 year old saw that there are no limits to human ambition and determination – I think she realised that anything really can be achieved if you want it bad enough. My 9 month old was there too and I was also very proud of him as he was waving the union jack flag all by himself.
I hope you enjoyed my review of the Paralympic experience. If so please could you donate £1 to Unicef – the whole reason why I am blogging daily for the rest of my life.