Whilst the Olympics are now becoming yesterday’s news, the last week and a half has given the British public a chance to embrace another marvellous spectacle of sporting and human achievement – the Paralympic Games.
And embrace it they have in record numbers.
Looking purely at ticket sales, the figures are astonishing. Sydney’s hugely successful Paralympic Games sold 1.2 million tickets and Beijing topped that with 1.8 million sales. London, however had sold a staggering 2.4 million tickets before the Opening Ceremony had even taken place and was on course to sell out.
Whilst some of that success may be down to people missing out on Olympics tickets and wanting a piece of the action, there can be little doubt that Britain has got behind these Games and raised the profile of the Paralympics to a whole new level.
The ‘Enlightenment’ opening Ceremony again set the tone, providing a stunning show full of wit, energy and colour. It also included moments that were simultaneously awe inspiring, thought provoking and tear jerking. And what a masterstroke to have Stephen Hawking in such a prominent role.
After watching a massive amount of the Olympic Games, I was worried that I might personally have become saturated and be unable to absorb much more during this latest festival of sport, but how wrong I was.
I have been captivated by event after event, marvelling at the skill, dedication and passion of the competitors. And what has given it an extra layer of involvement for me is hearing so many of the back stories and understanding a little more about the hardships these athletes have had to overcome in life, let alone sport. It has been truly humbling to hear.
Some of the odds they have to face almost defy belief. Consider the challenges faced by the amputee high jumpers, leaping over the bar on one leg, or the blind footballers sensing where the ball and their opponent is, or the swimmers propelling themselves up the pool despite missing one or more limbs.
If you haven’t seen any coverage of these and other events, I’d urge you to track down a highlights package – it is well worthwhile.
But what also struck me was the sheer will to win that these athletes possess. There was no case of just ‘doing their best’ – make no mistake, most of them were here to win. And this has ensured the Paralympics has provided some hugely exciting competition and has not been without controversy.
And as was the case with the Olympics, the Paralympics have also given Britons plenty to cheer about. The GB medal count has already exceeded the record haul from Beijing with several days of competition still to come.
And beyond that, it has given the nation a whole new set of Golden sporting heroes to celebrate – from wheelchair racers David Weir and Hannah Cockroft, to ‘Blade runner’ Jonnie Peacock, to dwarfism-afflicted swimmer Ellie Simmonds, to cyclist Sarah Storey who also competed in previous Paralympics as a swimmer despite not having the use of her left hand….the list goes on.
The noise generated by the patriotic home crowds has been deafening on occasions as they have taken the ParalympicGB athletes to their hearts.
People are talking optimistically about the legacy that the Olympics will leave behind for Britain and I genuinely hope that is the case.
But having witnessed the last 10 days, I’d argue that the legacy of the Paralympics could be even greater with this wonderful sporting event having the potential to raise awareness and understanding of disability to a higher level than ever before in Britain and around the world.
Before the Paralympics began, I wasn’t entirely sure about its new motto “Spirit in motion”, but now I have witnessed it and seen the impact it has had on people, I’m a believer.