Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Spirit in Motion - my Paralympic experience

Following on from our trip last month to see the Olympics (see my blog post here), my wife and I have just spent two days enjoying some events during the final weekend of the Paralympics, which we were lucky enough to get tickets for at the first time of asking.

We were especially pleased that our events across both Games enabled us to experience a range of venues, both on and off the main Olympic Park.  So here's what we saw...


We spent the Friday evening at the swimming pool (well, Aquatic Centre if you're being posh) and the evening immediately set a trend for our Paralympic sessions - seeing China win a lot of medals.  We actually had a rather personal reason for wanting to see the swimming, which is that my father in law is a double Paralympic swimming medallist.

Our seats were, of course, way up in the Gods, and I struggle to think of a time when I've climbed more flights of stairs in one go. People were genuinely gasping for air at the top, and bottles of water intended to last the whole evening were vanishing in one gulp on a very hot and humid evening.

One advantage of the swimming is that there is a very quick turnaround of races interspersed with medal ceremonies so there is little time to get bored. We saw a succession of races with some British and Chinese interest, and it's fair to say that my wife was far the happier with her country's haul at the end of the night!

Just when it seemed that team GB would end the night without any reward, the Women's 4x100m relay team, languishing in 5th at the halfway point, put on a storming finish to take silver on the line.  Cake? Iced.

Table Tennis

Our busy Saturday began with an early morning trip across London (we were staying with friends in the north) to the southwest and the Excel centre. The setup was quite good - as we had tickets specifically for the table tennis we had good seats and didn't have to queue, but our tickets also allowed us to get into other events on that day - we just had to join in with the masses and hope to get a seat before they all went.

Table tennis is a sport we both enjoy playing so it was fascinating to see it played at a top level, and the quality of play on show made it easy to forget that the competitors were physically impaired.  Naturally, the two team finals we saw ended with China winning both golds...

Wheelchair Fencing

This event was something of a surprise, as we used the advantage of the aforementioned open ticket to pay a quick visit to this fascinating sport.  Team GB were actually playing, but because of the layout of the arena we could hardly follow any of that match, and watched a bit of Russia v Ukraine instead.  We actually didn't have long before we had to travel to our next venue, but even so it was nice to be able to see a few bouts and appreciate the skill and agility on show.

Wheelchair Basketball

One of the most popular events of all, the basketball was being held at the 'North Greenwich Arena' - otherwise known as the O2.  We decided to use the Emirates Skyline cable cars to cross the river (despite the enormous queues and farcical ticketing system), which, although we'll probably never use it again, it's nice to say we have.

The basketball session consisted of two matches - the bronze medal (GB versus USA) and gold medal (Australia v Canada) matches.

Despite a valiant comeback early in the second half, the USA ultimately turned GB over relatively easily, though the crowd gave some noisy encouragement.

In the final, it was clear to see why Australia and Canada were there, as their movement and shooting were first rate and the match was easy to get caught up in, even as a neutral.  I confess to not being a fan of 'normal' basketball in the slightest, but something about the wheelchair version of the game makes it a better spectator sport.  It was a close game in which Australia had led early on but Canada came good at the end to claim the gold.

So there it is - four more sports in three more venues to complete our London 2012 experience.  It meant a lot of travelling and some very late nights, but being able to say 'I was there' at some key events is priceless, and something we'll always treasure.

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