Inspired by the Paralympics

Sunday, September 02, 2012

I know it's a strange thing to say, but I didn't get caught up in the Olympics hype at all. I loved the theatrics of the opening and closing ceremonies, but I didn't feel the need to tune in for sprints, dashes, throws or swims. I know.

And then, just after all the hoo-ha finally subsided, Channel 4 started airing their Paralympic adverts with the tagline "Thanks for the warm-up." Shortly after, they announced the new commentary program - The Last Leg. Cheeky, dubious marketing that could either roar with success or whimper with bad taste; I was interested. I dare-say, I might even have been a little bit excited.

So, when the EEWI members were offered tickets to the Paralympic athletics, I signed up.

This is inside Le Grande Olympic Park. It's much bigger than I thought it would be, with lots of open space, concrete and scaffolding masquerading as art and architecture.

It wasn't all paved over: these wildflowers were specially introduced as a part of a legacy plan - and they would have looked spectacular in the full swing of things. They looked fabulous on Friday, too.

We were attending the athletics events and there was a lot going on. Thank goodness we could see quite a bit from our perch: there was shot-put, discus, club, long jump, sprints, long-distance running and chair events. All at the same time.

The Olympic Flame might be my favourite bit of the whole extravaganza.

... or maybe it's the cheeky little remote-controlled Mini Coopers that were zipping about all over the place!

There were 20 of us, the Packed Lunch Gang. Jolly good turnout, if you ask me.

These athletes are incredible. I can't emphasise that enough. There were blind marathon runners (running along with a sighted running partner). There were disabled chair "cyclists", racing around the circuit in a sheer super-human feat of strength and endurance. There were long jumpers with cerebal palsy. Their triumphs and determination make our problems seem completely trivial. Feeling miserable because your goals seem impossibly out of reach? That guy has no vision and he's sprinting around an Olympic Stadium.

The rest of the Olympic Park was spectacular in its size and rather unremarkable in other ways. It was like a big sporting event and had all the hallmarks of a festival: food stalls selling Roast Hog and Pies, Port-a-Loos, masses of crowds and big screens showing off the day's events. Oh yes, and Europe's largest McDonalds. That too.

The flowers were really pretty. They gave the Olympic Park an element of the natural - even if they were in controlled banks and meadows. I do hope they manage to maintain them after the Para/Olympics are done!

I'm really glad that I managed to get to the events before they ended. They may have disrupted our travel routines (a lot), filled up our local shops (serves me right for living right next door to the stadium!) and taken over the telly ... but they also added a lot of positivity too. For the first time since I've been living in London, people are actually stopping to smile and greet you as you walk past on the streets. The shared enthusiasm for all things British has introduced a generally festive and rather pleasant atmosphere to the East. As my grandfather would say, they can come again.

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