Paralympics – The Party’s Over But The Legacy Lives On
September 10, 2012
By: Rosie Hill
We have come to the end of a truly spectacular summer of sport, a summer that has left every person in the UK honoured to wear red, white and blue – bursting with pride to simply be British. Both the Olympics and the Paralympics seemed to have this overwhelming effect on the country, this all-encompassing desire to be involved in possibly the greatest sporting event of each of our lifetimes, here on home soil. We Brits do pomp and ceremony well, as we aptly demonstrated at both the Royal Wedding last year and the Jubilee this year, but I feel this summer we have done something so much greater than that. We learnt respect, humility and pride.
Some people thought the Paralympics would be a weak alternative to the Olympics, a cheaper, less shiny competition. How wrong they were. We were given 11 uplifting days of fiercely competitive sports, and yes the athletes weren’t what most of us are used to in competitive sports, but they were highly trained, highly skilled athletes nonetheless. Disabled sport does take a while to get used to, but it is sport in the same sense as able bodied sport. There are winners and losers, there are highs and lows and there is sportsmanship. I have an enormous amount of respect for these athletes, some of whom have gone through so much before the games even began. I don’t want to dwell on this, because none of them do. Paralympians have a refreshing attitude to their disabilities, it’s a part of them now and without it, would they have become the people they are today? The Samsung television advert summed it up perfectly –
“Sport doesn’t care where you’re from, if you’re a man or a woman, tall, thin, big or short. Sport doesn’t care how you got here, how much money you make, what you believe in or not. It doesn’t care if you have two legs, one leg or wheels. Sport only cares that you’re here to take part and give your all to win.”
London 2012 has thrust disabled sport into the limelight where it belongs, and hopefully this is where it will belong. “The Paralympic Games have truly come home and found their pathway to the future here in London” said Sir Philip Craven, president of the International Paralympic Committee, declaring these games as “the greatest Paralympic Games ever”. Not a small feat at all.
I had the honour of being at the Paralympics on the final Thursday evening, after a spontaneous purchase of tickets a few days before. I am proud to say I was sitting in the Olympic Stadium when Jonnie Peacock sprinted his way to a gold medal with the support of the whole stadium behind him, and hearing those 80,000 people sing the National Anthem sent goosebumps up my arms. It wasn’t just Team GB that the crowd got behind though, every time a new record was set, or a race won, the crowd erupted into applause regardless of the competitor’s nationality. Paralympic sport is not without its drama however, as I discovered. During the men’s 100m T46 race Brazilian sprinter Yohansson Nascimento fell around the 50m mark, officials rushed to his side but he refused help. Dragging himself to his feet, and despite an obvious painful injury, he insisted on finishing his race. The entire stadium got behind him, screaming and cheering as he gingerly made his way to the finish line, erupting into applause as he collapsed on the line. That is what has made the Paralympics so spectacular. The British nation have got 100% behind every athlete, fallen in love with these good-natured, genuine people blessed with extraordinary talent despite what some could perceive as a disadvantage from the outset.
Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson was struck by the support and positive change in attitude to disabled athletes, saying that London 2012 has “brought sport to a whole new level.” In regards to London 2012 leaving a legacy for disabled sport, “Legacy is much more than just the buildings or even a change in participation,” Grey-Thompson said. “I think what I’ve seen is people having a different attitude towards Paralympic athletes.”
I agree with her wholeheartedly but I think these games have gone further than that. It’s not just disabled sport coming under the spotlight but disability as a whole. We have now seen the truly incredible things disabled people can accomplish, more than most of us able bodied could imagine!
Disability is a tricky word, because some of these people are more able than me. They don’t need to have their hands held through life and are perfectly capable of functioning with their disability. I was coming through London Bridge station late Friday afternoon and there was that inevitable clamour for the train door. Rush hour at London Bridge is a nightmare, and I feel a little daunted sometimes caught up in the throng of people fighting for train seats. I noticed a man towards the back of the group who seemed to have cerebral palsy, yet had obviously come straight from the office and was simply trying to get home like the rest of us. As the train pulled up, people were pushing and shoving and in the middle stood this rugby player-esque looking man in a suit, who pushed the crowd back like security at a concert, and turned to the man with cerebral palsy and simply said “You get on first mate”. Not said patronisingly, or followed up with “you deserve it” or “you need to”, just a simple acknowledgement that certain actions are harder for someone coping with a disability. Now I don’t know if this good Samaritan was simply that, but I like to think the Paralympics have opened people’s eyes to disability.
Team GB beat their Beijing medal total of 102, to become the proud holders of 120 medals, including 34 golds, 43 silvers and 43 bronze. And we have been supporting them the whole way. These games have set a benchmark. They have made Ellie Simmonds and David Weir household names and disability has taken a huge step forward. Hopefully the rest of us can now follow suit.