So now I get it – the Olympics were just the build up for the main event – the Paras! It was in the Paralympics that we got into the Olympic Park, sat in the fabulous new stadium with 80,000 other people and felt the rush of gold medals being won and lost.
I have to be honest, it was a slow start. We sat down to the Paralympics Opening Ceremony with great excitement, only to find it a little long and earnest. Then to our dismay, Channel 4 went to an advert break just as the USA Paralympic team entered the stadium, when one of our number had been waiting all evening for them to appear! In the papers the next morning, the reviews were all so positive, we felt a bit churlish to complain, and thinking back, there doesn’t seem anything to complain about. That Umbrella song burrowed into my brain to repeat itself for the next week like the earworm it is, only to be replaced by a version of Coldplay’s Paradise sung by some girls behind us in the Olympic Stadium, “Para-Para-Paralympics”.
There have been some excuses. People said that they couldn’t get into it, that they had Olympics fatigue. Grumpy couldn’t get along with Channel 4’s constant advert breaks to begin with, so it took us a couple of days. But if there is one thing I know, when it comes to a mega sport event, you have to make a decision to step into the spectacle. You have to invest. So we switched our radio to 5 Live and woke up to the “Paralympics station” and very quickly, there we were – hooked, like no-one has ever been hooked before.
We were even sceptical about C4’s presentation team – but the relationship between Clare Balding and Ade Adepitan was charming, with great contributions from jolly Iwan Thomas in the studio and smiley Danny Crates at the stadium. Even more than the Olympics, this is how I want sport to be televised.
My American friend (not quite over the blanking out of her team in the opening ceremony) offered an insight on the way the reporters treated the Paralympians in interview: “Why can’t they be this nice to all athletes?”, she asked. Reporters should always be like this.
Grumpy observed that every Paralympian asked to comment on their triumph or defeat communicated such depth of character – articulate and reflective. Sportspeople should always be like this.
I was told that the Olympic Park was like a fantasy world. It was. A place where no-one could be unhappy. When we went, it was so sunny, the sky had the same eerie blue of the Leap for London images from over four years ago. We saw everything – the velodrome, the giant Macdonalds, the wild flowers (on their last legs admittedly), Anish Kapoor’s helter-skelter Orbit tower. It was fantastic. As we sat and ate quite a nice meal and looked out at the Park, Grumpy said, “Don’t you think, it feels like we’re on holiday?”. It did.
The stadium was packed. We saw some great action – albeit from a distance, high up in the rafters. Jason Smyth ran way out in front, so we could pick him out without the aid of binoculars. Same with Oscar Pistorius. The sound was incredible.
The closing ceremony will start in half an hour. Grumpy and I will be sad to see it end. We had an experience of a lifetime, no question about it. It seems like some things have changed. Women’s sport has taken centre stage. Paralympic sport has finally been credited as just great sport. The Lea Valley looks beautiful and buzzing with people.
Now the party is over, the real discussion starts. What sense can we make of it. Is there such a thing as legacy? What legacy? Whose legacy? Or was it just bread and circuses?