When we first won the Olympic bid back in 2005, the nation was divided. How much would the Olympic Park cost us? What impact would it have on the city? Was the wrong time for us? My opinion was one of indifference. I’m just not a sporty person, and that’s ok. I approached the Olympics with a suspicious side-eye at Boris’ extravagant plans, expecting to be put through four weeks of travel chaos and tourism overload while not really giving a crap about the events in Stratford.
That was until I watched Joanna Rowsell, Laura Trott and Dani King win the women’s team pursuit in the Velodrome. From that moment, I was hooked on the Olympics. I screamed my living room down for Christine Ohuruogu, sobbed on the sofa at Victoria Pendleton’s tribute to her fiancée, and burst into sporadic tears the night Mo Farah won his 10,000m gold.
As I watched the TeamGB athletes win gold after gold and silver and bronze in-between, I started thinking how cool this Olympic Park looked after all. I’d had no bother on my commute either. In fact, London seemed as quiet a mouse for a good two weeks. It was nice to see hardworking atheletes being gracious in defeat and glorious in victory, without any diva-like moments or loutish behaviour (yes Premiership footballers, I’m looking at you…). I tried buying Olympic tickets but to no avail, so we snapped up Paralympic athletics tickets instead.
Like many, many others before the 29th August, I’d never experienced Paralympics or any disabled sports. I didn’t really know what to expect. Would all of the races be in wheelchairs? How exactly does blind discus work? Will the running times be slower than the Olympics? I had so many questions and virtually all of them were answered by simply watching people with disabilities perform fucking miracles. I watched Libby Clegg claim silver in the women’s T12 100m, Oscar Pistorius miss out on that controversial gold in the men’s T44 200m, and David Weir race to an emotional victory in the men’s T54 5000m.
I saw people with no legs run faster than I could ever dream of running; I saw blind athletes throw a discus up to 38.41m; and I couldn’t have been more inspired. Bloody Coe was right after all, thrusting inspiration upon us all from every angle.
The Olympic Park
I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many smiling staff members in one place than in the Olympic Park. It seemed to be a prerequisite that staff like jumping about, smiling and handing out hi-5s to everyone. Actually, the hi-5 thing got a bit annoying by 11pm but I didn’t let it get in the way of seeing the Paralympics as srs bsns. We made our way from the entrance right round to the Velodrome (which is bloody HUGE by the way) and had a really good walk around the rest of the park before heading into the stadium for the evening athletics.
The park itself is huge and has plenty of room to saunter around after all the venue placements. I don’t know whether it was because our ParalympicsGB team were smashing all of their expected records and winning golds all over the place, or whether the park just has a special impact on you, but everyone felt like your best friends.
A little (ok, quite a lot) afraid of heights, I was really hoping the stadium wouldn’t feel too high and render me unable to watch the sports. It didn’t disappoint! We scored the middle-band tickets, so were sat around 5 rows from the front of the second tier in front of the long jump pit. Not too steep and not too high, I was able to watch without a tinge of nausea. Result! I was really pleased with our view because it gave us pictures like these…
The Olympic legacy
As someone who really couldn’t care less about sport and didn’t know many of the athletes’ names, the Olympics and Paralympics have definitely left a lasting impression on me. I now know that sport doesn’t mean making racist marks on a pitch, using drugs to gain an unfair advantage, or putting animals at the risk of death. Sport means doing the best you can in the throws of grief, overcoming disappointment after years of training, and the determination to finish what you went there to do no matter what.
And I felt proud of every single athlete who competed, not knowing a single one of them personally. How’s that for a legacy?