They think it's all over...
...it is now.
(apologies in advance for a gushy post. But it's my blog, there you go!)
For those that know me, you'll know that sport isn't really my thing. I was the bespectacled kid chosen last for football (actually, not really, I setup football as a sports option that I ran myself. Primarily so I could bunk off actually playing. Anyway....) I don't watch sports on the TV - though I will say that Kitty has convinced me of the merits of Wimbledon.
But I am patriotic and I am proud to be British so there was no way I was going to turn down the Paralympic tickets to see our team compete. Boy, am I glad about that.
I'll be honest in that I really wasn't sure what to expect. I had heard the roar of the crowds when we visited the park and I'd been in a pub when Mo Farrah won his race in the Olympics. But, this was 'disabled sports', right? Would that be exciting? Would it feel wrong to watch people compete with a 'handicap'? Would it even convince a very non-sporty person such as myself?
A morning in the Aquatics centre answered the questions pretty quickly. In fact, scratch that, one race did. I thought I'd know what was in store. I was wrong. Yes, there was swimming - but it was so much more. The blind athletes competed with total reliance on their coaches to tell them when they were approaching the wall at full pelt. Athletes with amputated limbs competed fiercely, but when finished, turned around to egg on their opponents to finish. In fact, that they had that in common with the whole crowd. There was no question that any athlete would not finish any race. The sheer noise of the crowd ensured that.
As we thought we'd seen one amazing performance, another followed. To the point where one athlete (I forget his name) was lifted onto the blocks and steadied. Lifted, because he had one leg amputated entirely and the other amputated to the knee. Steadied, because he had lost both arms. Despite that, he swam the 100m freestyle. Just think about that for a while and the mental strength he must have needed to even go near the water. The crowd cheered him on harder than England winning the world cup. Jaw droppingly awe-inspiring.
If the morning was a display of dedication, the evening paraded skill. We saw Oscar Pistorius win his 400m race, but we were honoured to be able to watch Maciej Epiato match, beat and then smash the high jump record. Already in a winning position, he had the bar placed higher and higher, setting new world records each time. But he couldn't have been further from conceited or self-promoting about it. Each time he asked the 80,000 people in the stadium for their support and each time we gave it. When he finally decided to call it a day (still with a jump left) and took the gold, his standing ovation was unanimous.
I hope it should be obvious by now that this wasn't 'disabled' sport or 'handicapped' sport we were watching. This was the best of sport. Awe-inspiring amounts of commitment, camaraderie, sportsmanship and dedication. 'Able-bodied' as I am, I couldn't hope to match those levels of ability. There wasn't any question of being embarrassed to watch someone with an impairment race. As I heard more than one athlete say, given the chance to live their life again - they would change nothing.
So, my American friends, I give you a challenge. Apparently NBC excelled themselves and covered just 5 1/2 hours of the Paralympics - on time-shift. Well, congratulations USA, you missed the best sports I've ever seen. You have 4yrs. Tweet, blog, twitter, write - whatever - but you have 4yrs to convince a broadcaster that not only do they have to cover EVERYTHING in the Olympics live - but they have to give the Paralympics equal billing. If not better. Because, believe me, it is.
And is it all over? Well, very sadly, yes it is. London is packing up (I took out the Olympic Park display this week) and reseting back to normal. But hopefully not quite normal. Not after London 2012.