Working at my first ever Paralympic Games in Beijing, this Londonista heard and understood the maxim: ‘Heroes are born at the Olympics; Heroes come to the Paralympics.’
The Paralympics are the equivalent of the Olympics for athletes with physical, mental, and sensorial disabilities (so you’ll see athletes with all sorts of disabilities, amputations, blindness, cerebral palsy etc). Each sport’s heats and finals are now well under way, building up to a finale this Wednesday lunchtime (British time) when Boris takes the flag and London 2012 has another 8-minute ‘segment’ in the closing ceremony to invite the world to our capital in four years’ time. (Will we see the bus again? We liked it.)
‘ParalympicsGB‘ is the name for the Brits out here, the equivalent of ‘Team GB’ during the Olympic Games two weeks ago. ParalympicsGB has seen some extraordinary successes and each athlete has a story of both determination and inspiration. Watching paralympic sport close-up for the first time is quite an emotional experience – you spend half your time astonished at the performance of these elite athletes (can you run 100m in 11 seconds?) and the other half of your time moved to tears by their achievements. We challenge anyone to watch the sensational stories and post-event interviews of 13-year old Ellie Simmonds or Liz johnson swimming for her mum without being moved.
We can be proud that Londoners have played their part within the team, too:
* Barnet rower Tom Aggar snatched Gold in the men’s single sculls, after producing the world’s best time in the heats. In the final, Tom was ahead from the very first stroke, and kept Ukraine at bay who pushed him hard for the whole course.
* Vicki Hansford from Surrey, Naomi Riches from Harrow and cox Alan Sherman from Barnes secured Bronze in the mixed cox four. 2008 is rowing’s first year at the Paralympic Games, and Britain is coming out well so far.
* Wallington’s Dave Weir has won the last three London marathons, and was hotly-tipped in all five of his planned wheelchair races in the Bird’s Nest. At this point, he’s won a bronze in the 5000m and a silver in the 400m. He’s suffered a hefty virus over the last week that has seriously knocked his performance, and yet his world-class stature means that he is still achieving a place on the podium. He’s now determined to get a gold despite feeling “under the weather”.
So London Paralympians are helping to bolster the GB total so that earlier today we came within one gold medal of first-placed country – and hosts – China (although they have now stretched ahead). New heroes are being created in Beijing, but what’s really moving about these Games is that every one of the competitors was a hero before they got on the plane.
Photograph is the author’s own