The London 2012 Olympic Games will go down as one of the most breath-taking fortnights in sporting history, and yet at the moment they feel like a distant memory as the Paralympics retrieved the baton and embraced their moment in the spotlight like never before.
While it was expected after the hype of the Olympics that the Paralympics would be met with greater expectation, nobody was prepared for just how strongly these Games would grip the nation. With a return of 120 medals, including an astonishing 34 gold, Team GB again excelled and the country could only watch in awe as a new breed of sporting superstars were born. Whilst athletes have performed admirably in previous Games, they have never quite received the recognition they deserved, until now that is. Where the Olympics had The Beast and The Mo-Bot, the Paralympics boasts Hurricane Hannah and The Weirwolf, whose supreme performances on the track had the audience holding its breath every bit as much as when we were blessed with ‘Super Saturday’ during the first Games. Able bodied or not, there is no greater pride to watch the Union Jack fly high as the national anthem rings loud and true. ‘Thriller Thursday’ also included the T44 100m final, one of the most highly anticipated races in Paralympic history. It was a case of ‘Usain who?’ as Jonnie Peacock stormed to gold and a Paralympic record under the deafening roar of a packed stadium.
Once again, the British public packed out each venue and cheered Team GB to glory. The world has waited too long for Paralympic athletes to receive the same electric atmosphere experienced by their Olympic counterparts, and it speaks volumes for the attitude, support and unity of the Great Britain that we lead the way in recognition of such inspirational athletes. It is no surprise that world records were being not just broken, but smashed at every turn, as the buzz of the crowd helped every competitor reach new levels of performance. It is only fair that the audience were rewarded for their unwavering commitment.
It is impossible to discuss the Paralympics without referring to the legendary Mr Oscar Pistorius, a man who has single-handedly raised awareness and support for the Paralympic Games. There is no greater way to draw the curtain on Paralympic athletics than with the sport’s poster boy claiming victory. The Games had not all gone to plan for the Blade Runner however, as he and the rest of the world were stunned by a lightning quick finish in the 200m by Brazilian Alan Oliveira, who in doing so achieved the unthinkable and snatched gold from the invincible Pistorius. The South African’s response in the heat of the moment has been the cause of much debate, and while his comments could have been more appropriately timed, the outburst demonstrated something that can often be disregarded by the viewing public. Paralympians are just as passionate, committed and dedicated to their sport as Olympic athletes and their desire for victory is equally as raw; self-pity quite simply does not exist in their vocabulary.
Yes, for the likes of Pistorius, Weir and Peacock anything less than gold can be considered failure, but for the general viewing public, never before has the mantra ‘it’s the taking part that counts’ held such significance. Just to see these exceptional people make the most of their ability and show the strength of character to take to the start line sends a tingle down the spine. Having recently been on crutches and completely reliant on others, seeing the Paralympic athletes achieve such amazing performances is truly inspirational. Most of the time it was forgotten that each athlete carried some form of disability, as the world focused on the stunning talent of each participant. The London 2012 Paralympic Games have helped to break down the wall between the disabled and abled, there is now a greater understanding and acceptance that a disability should not be seen as a hindrance, merely a quality that makes us all unique. Disability is hopefully no longer a taboo, and we should all have greater confidence to embrace the topic and not be afraid to ask questions. After all, we’re all human.
One of the most fascinating elements of the Paralympic Games was the interesting story that every athlete had behind their journey to the Games. Some had been born with their disability, some had turned to sport as a form of therapy following a life-changing accident, whilst some were aiming for the Olympic Games until fate altered their path and decided that they were destined for the Paralympics. I have nothing but admiration for those athletes, especially those who have ignored the odds and returned to a sport after seeing their future thrown into disarray. At a time where the world is reminded of the terrifying events of September the 11th, the Paralympics is the best reminder of the strength of the human race and our ability to hold our heads high in the face of adversary; every athlete to take that stage is a warrior and an inspiration for all. Dubbed ‘The Superhumans’, this year’s Paralympians have demonstrated the true value of sport, and ensured that London 2012 will forever live in the memory as one of the greatest Games in Olympic and Paralympic history. Let us hope that the Paralympic Games will no longer live in the shadow of their Olympic neighbours, and that the Superhumans continue to soar. Rio certainly has their work cut out, but I for one can’t wait.