The Grandstand Option: X&HT At The Paralympics

Readership. I have a dream. A dream in which we all come together, regardless of age, race, creed or ability, and celebrate the enduring tenacity of the human spirit. I came a little closer to that dream yesterday, and I can only hope that we all realise that we are on the brink of a whole new relationship with sport. 

Now, I am one of the many, many people that have become born-again sports fans thanks to the Olympics. Before then, I would have laughed in your face if you’d told me that the TV at Casa Conojito would barely move away from the sports channels. But that’s exactly what happened. TLC and I were hooked. We’d been lucky and spendthrift, and thus managed to get tickets for several Olympic events, as well as a couple of freebies that served up unexpectedly great views

Like a lot of evangelicals, the passing of the Olympics was felt like a wound. All of a sudden, the magic had passed on and we were back in the real world. As football moved back into the pages at the back of the papers, it felt as if something very special had simply evaporated. Had it all been a dream after all?

Fortunately, we had the Parlympics to look forward to. A day at the Athletics, in the amazing Olympic Stadium. 

It was an early start. Fate had given us a Sunday session, and I knew from bitter experience how infrequent trains into London are at stupid o’clock. It was dark when the alarm went off. I’m used to getting up that early. TLC isn’t. She kept the grumbles to a minimum, but I could see she wasn’t enjoying the sensation. 

The 06:22 train ground out of Reading station on time, and stuffed full of flag-toting families. That train is never quiet, as shift workers make their way into work. Add five times the custom from people heading to the Paralympics and… well, let’s just say it was cosy and I was very glad that I didn’t have to try and squeeze onto the train at Slough. As it was, the driver had to open carriages that were not supposed to be for public use. Someone at First Great Western had clearly underestimated the amount of traffic at that time on a Sunday. 

Apart from that minor issue, travel around London during the Games has been slick, quick and trouble-free. Free travelcards that come with the passes to the Olympic venues mean you can plan your own trip, and take advantage of lesser-used routes like the DLR. The smart money is on the Hammersmith And City or District Lines into West Ham, then a fifteen minute, very clearly signposted walk to the Park. Much easier than fighting through the crowds at Stratford.

The early rise was worth it. We were in our seats on time, and with coffee and sausage sardines in our bellies. We’d seriously lucked out with tickets. Here’s the view we had.

 

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It was a full morning of athletics. There were events going on at three places at once. There were victory ceremonies aplenty (our personal favourite national anthem? Cuba’s jaunty little tune. You can almost dance to it).  Most importantly, and you’ll have to excuse me for being partisan, but there were plenty of Brits out on the track and field, which meant we had a chance to cheer our boys and girls along in a lusty fashion. Let’s make no bones about this: the home team get preferential treatment. It’s the same for every Games, of course, but it’s fun to be able to wave the flag and roar without feeling like a member of the EDL. The Olympic Stadium is set up to channel sound, and the roar of 80,000 fans rolling around the track, following the runners like an acoustic Mexican Wave is something that needs to be experienced. 

It turned out to be an astonishing morning for Paralympics GB. Silver for Stef Reid in the long jump, in a battle with her old nemesis Kristy Anderson that led to world and Paralympic records being set and reset. World champs Katrina Hart and David Devine cruised through their heats.

But all eyes were on the Discus, as Aled Davies set up a gold medal position with his first throw that no-one else could beat. They tried: Mehrdad Karam Zadeh, in silver medal position, threw mightily on his last go, and for a moment it looked as if Aled would have to respond in kind. Mehrdad fell to his knees and cheered as the result came up: it wasn’t enough, but he’d still succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. Silver for the jovial Iranian. The stage was Aled’s, and as he walked out to take his last throw, the Stadium erupted. It didn’t matter what he did now. But he threw as far and as hard as he could, shattering both his personal best and the Paralympic record.

We hadn’t believed that we’d see a Brit win a gold at the Olympic Stadium. It was as emotional and delirious a moment as you’d think, as Aled did his lap of honour, draped in a Union Jack, stopping to sign autographs and hugging his mum, who sweetly wiped off the lipstick she’d just planted on him. 

A victory ceremony for Stef finished off the day in style, and we left the Olympic Park feeling a little dazed, and woozy with the sheer joyful spectacle of it all. 

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So what happens after the Paralympics? The football has again been on the back-burner, as the pubs show wheelchair rugby and the high jump. I’d be happy if this became the status quo, if when you went out for a drink on a Saturday afternoon there was something new and different on the box that didn’t include the same old crop of millionaires playing the same old underwhelming game. We’ve had our eyes opened to the huge range of sport that’s out there. This is a prime moment to get a nation interested in something new.

Apparently Sky will be launching a channel dedicated to so-called “minority sports” in the autumn. Frankly, I don’t think that’s good enough. Don’t stick these exciting, competitive events on a subscription-package ghetto. Let’s get them on the main broadcast channels, where they belong. If the Beeb or ITV won’t, then Channel 4 have a history of innovative sports programming–anyone remember kabaddi? And you can gripe about the adverts all you like, but let’s not forget that C4 put up nearly twice the budget and coverage as the BBC were offering for the Paralympics. Personally, I think they’ve done a great job and they’re in a prime spot to take that legacy and run with it. 

When I were a lad, Saturday afternoons were taken up with sports omnibus shows on both the BBC and ITV. Grandstand and World of Sport would highlight all kinds of activities, including all-in wrestling before the football final scores. Saturday afternoon scheduling is moribund now, full of old films and repeats of bloody Cash In The Attic and bloody Come Dine With Me. We can, and should expect better from our public service broadcasters. I’d like to see a modern version of World of Sport, pushing the best of what’s out there from boccia to baseball, sailing to shooting. What the hell, bring wrestling back while we’re at it. An omnibus show would give a real taste of the action. Let’s get some variety back in sport, and get away from the same old calendar of golf, F1, cricket and bloody football.

What do you say, Readership? Doesn’t your Saturday afternoon deserve a little Paralympic spirit?  

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For more pics of the day, allow me to point you at TLC’s Flickrstream, from whence I ganked the photo of Aled Davies above. Fanks, darlin. 

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Rob

Writer. Film-maker. Cartoonist. Cook. Lover.

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