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The London 2012 Paralympics

“Beijing was the first Paralympic Games where we were treated as equals. London was the first Paralympic Games where we were treated as heroes.”

Everyone who watched these amazing Games will have their own memories... Here are a few of mine:

Hannah Cockroft, golden girl of the Paralympics, delightful and bubbly off the track, a fearsomely unbeatable opponent on it...

David Weir, the "Weir Wolf"

One of the most memorable moments of "Super Thursday" was when Jonnie Peacock asked the crowd for silence at the start, and 80,000 people went silent as in a church within about a second. After which, this man (who happens to have only one leg, although we have sort of stopped noticing that) ran 100m in 10.9 seconds, beating probably the best group of 100m athletes ever seen in one Paralympics final.

The blind runner Libby Clegg and her great guide/partner (actually a photo from her silver medal win at Beijing)...

...and winning the Gold in London

From this article: Derek Derenalagi, the British discus thrower whose legs were blown apart five years ago by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, drank in the moving warmth of the sustained applause as he entered the Olympic Stadium for Friday night’s competition.

Sadly for his own aspirations of a medal, he could finish only 11th from a impressively strong field. Derenalagi’s longest throw of 39.37 metres, yielding 771 points, was comfortably adrift of the benchmark set by Russia’s Alexey Asapatov, whose effort of 56.19m equated to 977 points.

The 37 year-old, born in Fiji, had been desperate to mount the podium but recognised that his mere appearance here verged on miraculous. In 2007, he had been lying dead on an operating table at Camp Bastion, before a member of medical staff detected a pulse.

In the five years that ensued he helped galvanise public support for those seriously wounded in the service of the country. He was pivotal, indeed, in the creation of Help for Heroes after the charity’s founders, Emma and Bryn Parry, visited him at Selly Oak Hospital and found themselves moved by his dignity in the face of extreme adversity.

“It was devastating for both of us to see somebody so injured when we visited him in hospital,” Emma Parry remembered. “But to see him five years later, having battled everything to get through to the Paralympics, is absolutely extraordinary.”

His resolve to reach the Paralympics was forged in the grimmest of those hospital days. Watching the Beijing Games from his bed, he decided that his ambition was to wear Britain’s colours at London 2012 and worked indefatigably at identifying his strongest sport, the discus. His specialist prostheses have been built to be especially resilient to withstand the force of his throwing action.

Derek as he was in Afghanistan

One of many warm moments in the Paralympics as Ellie Simmonds, our "pocket rocket" in the swimming pool, shares the rostrum with her great friend and rival Victoria Arlen from the USA (the medals were the other way around in a previous race, but the friendship is just the same)

Channel 4 did a great job. As well as covering the Paralympics, they did a great job in promoting these Games ("Thanks for the warm up" was their cheeky salute to the London Olympics) and making them a real turning point in people's view of disability.

One of their advertisements was probably the best of its kind every produced - see here.

Channel 4's review before the actual Closing Ceremony added some more memories (these are my screenshots from their coverage):

For many people, Clare Balding (transferring from the BBC) and Ade Adepitan, the unfailingly cheerful gold medal-winning wheelchair basketball player, were the main faces of Channel 4's presentation team. They were joined by many other really good presenters... of whom was Giles Long, who won Paralympic Swimming gold 1996 and 2000. Giles (Clare told us) was the guy who recognized that to the viewing public, classification is the only barrier to enjoying paralympic sport at its full.

Giles invented LEXI, the Lexicon Decoder, which made such a difference to our understanding. Giles said that it took him 6 months to crack the classification system just in swimming, then another 2 years or so to get it right.

Oscar Pistorius, the South African super-athlete, a gentleman and a true ambassador for the paralympics

Brazilian blind 100m runner and guide, two of many Brzilians celebrating

"... it's a pretty safe bet that the party will continue in Rio 2016"

David Weir with son Mason after winning the Marathon [Link]

Another warm moment, as the German Jochen Wollmert comforts GB table tennis player Will Bayley, after beating him in the final. Jochen previously won many hearts by over-ruling the umpire who mistakenly awarded Jochen a point against Will, and then won them again in this moment.

In another match, astonishingly dynamic play as a so-called "disabled" table tennis player hurls himself to the right, the ball whistling back over the table to the left for a winner...

Running blind with a partner involves total trust and a unique form of partnership


...and tears

In some ways this didn't seem the most important aspect of the games... but it's a source of huge pride for many people in many countries

The actual Closing Ceremony, after the magnificent Opening Ceremony (see my article here), was a little disappointing to me and (I have read) to some others. It contained some great stuff (see below and this great set of pictures), but a large part of it consisted of a concert by Coldplay, joined by Rihanna, where Paralympians and disabled people were an audience rather than participants (a link on that here).

However, there was still much to enjoy (including Coldplay's music). These are my screenshots from Channel 4's coverage:

The opening film sequence featured the gathering of some fantastical steampunk vehicles who will appear later in the Arena...

(A great picture of this wonderful vehicle will be found about half-way down this page)

We had our first sight of disabled aerial performers from Circus Space

In the Stadium, the "Festival of Fire" gets off to a great start...

Captain Luke Sinnot, who lost his legs and an arm in a blast on the battlefields of Helmand, climbs The Flagpole of Human Endeavour [Link]

Luke is a keen sailor aiming for Rio 2016, with a boat funded by Help for Heroes (whose members featured strongly in this sequence)

A Royal Vehicle like no other, cobbled together from a 1930's gangster car and a military vehicle used in Afghanistan

Lance Corporal Rory Mackenzie, a very impressive individual, welcoming people to the Festival of Fire.

Rory is a 26 year old South African, who served in the British Army as a Combat Medical Technician - his own story can be read here

Entry of the flags..

...tonight, all the 4,259 athletes are here

One of many steampunk vehicles. Paralympians customize their own vehicles, for both performance and individuality. These fantastical vehicles, some huge, were constructed from materials found in dumps and old cars and trucks.

A group of 6 paralympian athletes from different countries (France, Turkey, USA, Spain, Netherlands and Hong Kong China, elected by all the athletes to join the IPC Athletics Council, who will play a big role in advancing the paralympic movement...

...joined by representatives of the amazing volunteer Games Makers, who received immense applause on several occasions tonight...

...a moment symbolically bringing together people with and without disabilities who have already done much to change the world

Entry of "disabled" aerial performers from Circus Space...

Mat Fraser, who has short arms because he was born with phocomelia, drummed with Coldplay for their song God Put A Smile Upon Your Face

The British Paraorchestra is a new orchestra created by the conductor Charles Hazlewood and composed of 17 performers with disabilities – including a one-handed pianist and an electronic musician with such severe cerebral palsy that she requires 24-hour care - joining Coldplay and playing the Paralympic Anthem [video links]

Handover of the Paralympian Flag between the mayors of London and Rio

Lord Seb Coe, father of the London Olympic Games, equally committed to the London Paralympics. In a brief, heartfelt speech he shared a story about a doctor, one of the Games Makers, whom he met while on the way to a boxing event:

“...After a very British dance about who should thank whom, he suddenly cut through the politeness and told me: I was on duty on 7/7, that awful day. For me, this is closure. I wasn't sure I should come, or whether I could face it. I'm so glad I did, for I have seen the worst of mankind, and now I have seen the best of mankind.”

He also shared a story about a wheelchair basketball athlete who told him that the sport had "lifted the cloud of limitation" for her. He said that in this country we would never think of sport the same way, we would never think of disability the same way, and that the paralympians had, indeed, lifted the cloud of limitation.

His thanks to these people and to all of the volunteer Games Makers drew extraordinary applause, which also honoured Seb Coe himself

Sir Philip Craven, President of the International Paralympic Committee. a British former Paralympic athlete, praised all those who brought these Games to London and who made it successful, with very special thanks - again - to the thousands of Games Makers, the British Armed Services, and the Emergency Services.

He told a story from his own family about a 5-year old boy, whose friend was reading a book featuring a picture of a man with a parrot, an eye-patch and a wooden leg. She asked him who it was, expecting him to say "a pirate". Instead he replied: "Well, he only has one leg. He must be an athlete."

“Kids just get it. Now thanks to the amazing performances we have seen here, we all do.”

Jonnie Peacock and Ellie Simmonds extinguishing the Paralympic Flame...

...but the spirit moves on...

There followed more music (with the Olympic Stadium's pixel system providing its stunning light show) from Coldplay, Rihanna and Jay Z, and of course a firework finale - pictures of all of which can be found here and here - but the essence of the Paralympics had already been conveyed.

As record audiences and visitors watched the London 2012 Paralympics, while the Presidential race continued to run in the USA (where the Paralympics have received relatively little coverage) I was struck by a strange contrast.

It seems at times that the American political system (unlike very many American people) suffers more than most from disability, dysfunction, negativity, under-achievement, non-cooperation and meanness of spirit.

The exact opposite is what we have been watching in the amazing events going on in London.

Maybe we can all learn something from this wonderful group of international athletes...

[More links for the London 2012 Paralympics Closing Ceremony]
[All of my posts on the London 2012 Paralympics]
[All of my posts on the London 2012 Olympics]