Last weekend I was lucky enough to spend the morning watching an Athletics session at the Paralympics. After having a wonderful day at the Olympic Hockey a few weeks earlier at the Riverbank arena I was determined to get a chance to experience an event inside the stadium. I tried in vain every day in the run up to the Paralympics to get tickets and it got to the stage where it was clearly interfering with my work, as people I don’t really know in the office would ask me in the kitchen if I’d managed to get tickets yet. Luckily, just as I was developing a serious vendetta against the London2012 ticket website a very lovely friend saved the day and offered me tickets to an Athletics session that she wasn’t able to make.
Before going to the games my knowledge of Paralympic athletics was ashamedly limited to Oscar Pistorius, but I was super excited to get inside the stadium and learn more. But as it was the first morning session for the athletics meet and mainly heats my expectation for what the atmosphere would be like was not sky high. But I couldn’t have been more wrong, the stadium was packed at 9.30 on a Saturday morning and the atmosphere in the crowd was incredible!
Quite soon into the session we had witnessed the first GB gold medal which went to Richard Whitehead in the T42 200m final, a category of event for people who have impairment in a limb. I wish I had of known more about the classification system before I went to the games but I was able to understand the variations in events as I watched and then did some proper research when I got home. Watching Richard Whitehead win was so exciting because at the start of the race he was coming last and then when he got onto the 100m straight he just blitzed so far ahead of everyone else- incredible!
We were lucky enough to see lots of different events, ranging from wheelchair racing, to discus, club throwing (which I had never seen before- kinda like shot put but they throw a wooden club that looks like a rounders bat), long jump and lots of track races. The track races I enjoyed watching the most were in the category where the athletics ran with a guide as they had a visual impairment. I thought it was fascinating to see how the athletes and the guides worked together throughout the race and appreciating the nuances of the event like the guide not being able to cross the finishing line first
The other memorable event was one of the heats for the mens 1500m where the athletes had impairments in their arms. An athlete from the tiny North East African nation of Djibouti (yep I’ve never heard of it either and I even have a geography degree) got lapped twice and finished 7 minutes after all the other athletes. But even though he knew he didn’t have a chance of getting through to the final he just kept running around the track by himself while the entire stadium stood up and cheered him on. I’m aware that this sounds extremely cheesy, but it was a really special event to witness.
To say I enjoyed going to the Paralympics is an understatement- it was awesome! The Olympics makes made me quite emotional at the best of times so the Paralympics was on another level. I’m so glad I got to experience it and appreciate the skill and strength of the Paralympians, it’s something I won’t forget for a long time.