Monday, 10 September 2012

Days at the Paralympics

The starting line
One of my family has observed my recent blogging black-out. One of my excuses was tiredness following last Friday and Saturday when we went to two of the Paralympic venues. So I thought a quick photo journal would be a jolly way to update this. Reflections might follow given inspiration. I have to say the opening ceremony of the Paralympics was a real disappointment after the class act of the Olympic equivalent, but the actual paralympic competitions I thought were more impressive than the able-bodied ones, and certainly more moving.

Anyway, our first visit was to Eton Dorney where the rowing events took place. It was a bright cool day.
The young toffs' boathouse

Two spectators in Grandstand 
We'd prebooked parking, which meant we were ushered to very near the entrance and security checks. We didn't actually have to take our shoes off, as in Twenty Twelve, but Jane and Rachel went through the electronic screening and I was frisked by a polite young soldier. All the time we we surrounded by hordes of volunteers offering advice and hoping we'd enjoy ourselves - which we did.

A minibus whisked us halfway down the course, where we paid our first visit to the abundant and super-duper loos. I don't where the 10,000 of them are going after the Games, but the disabled ones certainly should not be scrapped. They were something else!
Nick Beighton and Sam Scowen
The coxed fours

We ensconced ourselves in Grandstand 2, opposite the big screen, and where you could see both the start and the finish, though it's hard to judge who's in the lead because of the angle across the lake. We saw three sets of heats, in all of which Brits did well, the mixed double sculls, the men's single sculls and the coxed mixed fours - in which unusually the cox lies at the front of the boat. The GB 'four' (5 including Lily the cox) 

went on to win the gold in the final. Sadly for Tom Aggar, and Sam Scowen and Nick Beighton, they came fourth in their finals - which is a hard place to end up, especially when the media raise people's expectations about you. Tom Aggar, the favourite in the Arms and Shoulders Only sculls, just said he was gutted. (I must say it struck me there was a refreshing blunt honesty about the Paralympians in the post-event interviews.)

The gold-medal four

The one downer about the arrangements was the volume of loudspeakers bang in front of our seats, which fell quiet only at points in the races - otherwise they had excessively loud music or some cheerful charlie keeping up an entertaining (I suppose) chatter. As you can see, there were thousands in the crowd, merrily marshalled by helpers in the purple and orange uniforms (you can see one girl perched on her umpire's chair behind the departing mob). On the way out we were regaled by a band of the Marines, and a chap up another umpire's chair shouting, "God bless you!" As we drove home, we felt He had done so.
Lee Pearson on Gentleman

Jo Formosa on Worldwide PB

On the Saturday after a more leisurely start we set off for South East London. Had we relied on Sean the satnav we might have made it with more time to spare. However I knew better. Thus it was that we reached the south end of the equestrian arena in the nick of time to see the 1b Dressage tests begin - at the old naval college in Greenwich. I have to say I found watching those very disabled riders from all over the world controlling tons of horse with amazing accuracy very moving. I think it was that afternoon which really engaged my attention with the Paralympics.

Mutual support on the medal rostrum
Many of the riders had been paralysed after riding accidents. Some had cerebral palsy and other neurological conditions. Lee Pearson, riding for Great Britain, has the rare arthrogryposis but humour with it. He'd already won a gold medal with the GB team; this time he won the silver to add to his hoard of medals from previous games. The winner was Jo Formosa from Australia who persuaded her horse, Worldwide PB, to produce a beautiful performance, with instructions shouted from the sidelines above the roar of passing jets.
Lee Pearson acknowledging the fans
What was most moving was the medal ceremony. The riders' skill is such that you're hardly aware of how severe their disabilities are, but once they're off their horses you see the full extent. Also obvious is their obvious mutual respect and affection. That's a characteristic of the Paralympics which really struck me much more than in the able-bodied competition - the generosity to each other after competing, whether in victory or defeat. It seemed that all the Paralympians had empathy for each others' efforts, pain, achievements or disappointments. They, more than anyone, knew what it cost. Which, by the way, was what made the disabled commentators and analysts on TV so refreshing. What a change from those tired old chauvinistic regulars! 
The final capitulation - Team GB flags
on my wheelchair!

I'm glad we weren't successful in applying for the "real" Olympics. Impressive and exciting though those were, in my view they were outshone by the Paralympics, the parallel Olympics.                                                                                Oh yes, I almost forgot to mention the weather! I'd have thought a passing word of thanks to the Almighty would be in order, as certainly LOCOG wasn't responsible for arranging that. I was sorry that although the Olympic opening ceremony had reference to God, the final closing ceremony reverted to New Age paganism with its invocations of the spirits of the seasons. Really! Why on earth London (of all places!) 2012 should have been so blessed with so much sunshine in the midst of the wettest summer on record (etc etc), I have no idea. It seems Jesus was right, "Your Father who is in heaven... makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust."

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