|Olympic Muffin takes in the stadium|
OK so its rather tenuous cakey link but a week or so ago I was lucky enough to attend a day of track and field events at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. London has been a completely different city of late. I've lived here for near on ten years and it truly is one of the greatest cities in the world but over the last six weeks we've been living in the bubble that was London 2012. Everyone has been in a good, no, great mood! Trains and Tubes have been packed at 6am, full of chatty, excited Games go-ers instead of grumpy, don't-make-eye-contact-at-any-cost commuters. A sea of colour as tourists proudly proclaimed their allegiances. We've cheered, cried and been gobsmacked together, its all anyone could talk about and my oh my did we love it!
Along with the rest of the world I was glued to the Olympics but could I get a ticket? Could I 'eck! At one point I had the precious cargo in my virtual shopping basket, but just as I went to pay the travesty that was the ticketing website crashed! Not to panic, there were still tickets a plenty for the Paralympic Games and I couldn't wait to see some of the action first hand. It was an early start but as we approached the Park I was buzzing.
We sped through security and were greeted by beaming, singing Games Makers then happened upon the eyesore that is the Orbit. Contemporary art, quite frankly its horrid and it wouldn't be a bad thing if they tore it down.
The stadium on the other hand, was magnificant. A beast of a building it was bigger and more impressive than I had imagined after having seen it on TV.
We arrived pretty early so took some time to soak up the atmosphere and take pictures before grabbing a cuppa and taking our seats. Which were OK I guess...
|That, oh that's just the FINISH LINE!!|
One of the things I find quite sad about the Paralympics is that people don't really travel for it the same way they do for the Olympics (although, following the success of London 2012 this may well change for Rio) We saw a few Stars and Stripes, a few Aussie flags but the overwhelming majority of the crowd were draped in the Union flag - great for the home crowd and which made for an electric atmosphere. The crowd really got behind all the athletes, from the noise you would have thought it was the Olympics, not the Games many had dismissed as the B event in the lead up (and how wrong were they!) Music was pumping through the stadium throughout the day, pausing only for the starting guns of the track events. World records tumbled race by race and we were lucky enough to witness GB Gold when Richard Whitehead crossed the line in first place in the men's T42 200m. The stadium erupted, the noise was immense! I even shed a tear during the victory ceremony.
In addition to Whiteheads stunning victory we saw three GB bronze medals in the shape of the fabulously entertaining Robin Womack who boogied along to the music between throws in the Men's F55 Shot Put, Gemma Prescott in the Women's F32 Club Throw and Claire Williams in the Women's F12 Discus. A number of the events we watched, including Williams' event, were for visually impaired athletes and I was genuinely intrigued as to how these would work. How would visually impaired runners know when to take the corner in the 200m? Do they have to stay in lane? Wouldn't the discus be a bit dangerous? Naive questions maybe, but for many of us the Paralympics were massively educational as well as being tremendously enjoyable. The runners know when to take the corners because they run with a guide (who for the first time in Paralympic history also received medals at the London Games) and they have two lanes to run in. The discus throwers have developed a number of tactics so as to know where to throw, my favourite being a coach or other team member (I couldn' t quite tell who it was) would stand in the field and clap so as the athlete knew where to aim. Simple but extremely effective.
As the events drew to a close we had a few more victory ceremonies - although one had to be rescheduled owing to the winner not turning up! Fancy that!
As the crowds filtered out of the stadium we wandered around the rest of the park to take in the atmosphere and see a few of the other venues. I was also particularly keen to see the wildflower gardens. Protecting biodiversity was a key consideration in clearing the 246 hectare site for what had been billed as the 'Green Games'. As part of the environmental legacy, horticulturalists have sown over ten football fields worth of wildflowers, planted 4,000 trees and created new habitats for creatures ranging from otters to frogs, grass snakes to moths, kingfishers to eels. Impressively 4,000 newts, a protected species, were moved to new habitats away from the site.
The flowers in the various gardens had been chosen specifically because they would be in bloom during the two week period of the Olympics. By the Paralympics, sadly many of these had started to look a bit sorry for themselves, and some of the gardens we couldn't actually get to. We did, however see the wildflower meadow which was packed with beautiful cornflowers, cosmos, marigolds and California poppies.
As an added bonus the Queen's row barge, Gloriana, commissioned for the Diamond Jubilee and used to carry the Olympic torch, was moored up in the park. I'm not entirely sure it was meant to be there - it did seem a little tucked away and right next to an area of construction!
And then off course there was the obligatory trip to the gift shop...
It was such a great day I wanted to go back! Incredible atmosphere, incredible achievements. These athletes are a true insiration proving that even if you have a disability you can still be an extraordinary human being.