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I was lucky enough to attend the Olympics this summer; lucky enough to be able to watch live a host of incredible performances at an incredibly high standard, to be part of a tremendously appreciative crowd cheering on those on the sand and to feel the atmosphere which was palpable with excitement. From experience I can say watching British performers winning medals in competition against the rest of the world is one of the most special experiences one can have. The Paralympics, following on from the Olympics, was anticipated to be a ‘flop’ by some after the striking performances of the Olympic Games. On the contrary it provided an outstanding display of some of Britain’s best talent and the tenacity with which disabled people worked hard to excel in various sports from water polo to the 100m sprint, and proved sensational to watch. Overall we came third in the world in the Paralympics, beating bigger nations than ourselves, and we won a record-breaking 120 medals.
Two major achievements of the Paralympics include Dave Weir. The athlete won four gold medals out of the 34 golds won by the British; the men’s 5000 meters, the men’s 1500 meters, 800 meters and the men’s marathon. Sarah Storey, who was the first British disabled athlete to win a gold medal cycled her way to victory again this year by becoming the first athlete to win gold this year and winning four gold medals overall, claiming first place in Individual Pursuit, Time Trial, Individual Road Time and Individual Road Race. The pair, already highlighted as leading athletes in international sport are expected to compete and succeed again at Rio.
There were many other athletes, all of which were impressive in their own right. Kylie Grimes was the only woman to play at wheelchair rugby, Nick Dempsey did wind surfing and won silver, and one of the nation’s favourites, Johnny Peacock, who had his right leg-amputated below the knee, in a marvellous feat came first in the 100 meters. It becomes possible to realise that Britain’s participating Paralympic athletes are exceptional when you see them competing against the best and most determined sportsmen in the world. The men’s five-aside football coached by Lancaster graduate Dave Clark similarly gave an impressive performance with a 2-0 victory to Britain against Turkey.
Someone commented they initially had a sense of discomfort about the Paralympics but that they were participating full-heartedly by the end with cries of ‘knock them off that wheelchair!’ It was wonderful to see a Paralympics mainly led by the young people of Britain achieving the highest standard. A BBC commentator says Paralympics managed to inspire a generation and emerged ‘from the shadow of the Olympics’ and ‘held its own in its own right’.
News readers have avoided calling the disabilities by name, but maybe the Paralympics will enable us as a nation to see past the setbacks of disability through to possibility. The Paralympics, it is said by many, has dramatically changed the way we look at people with disabilities, and has shown that they can attain what they aim for. The words of a second year London university wheelchair basketball player aptly summarises this, in that it has ‘Lifted the cloud of limitation.’ She has gone on to do wheelchair fencing. Events like this are truly inspirational and lift the clouds of limitation within our own lives, enabling us to see more clearly what we can achieve with discipline.
I certainly am proud to have witnessed the sense of team work, pride and purpose we have achieved and the passion which has been carefully honed to induce skilful performance. Taking the words that rang out at the beginning of the opening ceremony of the Olympics as the torch burned, ‘The Olympics brings together the people of the world to celebrate what is best about mankind.’ I really felt this was true whilst watching the final parade which finished the Paralympics. A huge crowd gathered to watch the stream of 21 blue, red and white floats travelling down to St Paul’s as people lined the streets, cheering on the heroes along with the Kinetica marching band whose 40 members played magnificently as the floats came to the end of the journey. As the athletes were set down to be awarded medals by the prime minister at Buckingham Palace, one could be sure these were awards which were definitely deserved. There was a sense of being proud to be British, and of pride in the skill, determination, courage and discipline that won us third place in the 2012 Paralympic Games.