By: Nancy Megginson, Professor, Kinesiology
Due to a four-plus hour delay in my flight from SFO, I arrived at London Heathrow on August with just enough time to hit my hotel and take the train out to the Olympic Park before the start of the Open Ceremonies. I have accreditation as a member of the press covering the Games for the adapted physical activity, recreation, and sport professional magazine, Palaestra, but needed to pick up my photographer bid/materials at the Main Press Center before the OC started. Once in the Olympic Stadium, I (along with over 62,000+ spectators) was exposed to an extremely original and moving OC like no other…With Professor Steven Hawking, astrophysicist, narrating the ceremonies and Sir Ian McKellan playing Prospero from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the evening’s festivities provided moving journey on the struggle of disability/human rights and the achievement of empowerment. Over 141 performers with disability participated in the ceremonies, many of those attached to zip lines in various scenes flying high over the crowd. To usher in the official start of the Games, the Queen of England announced its opening, the Paralympic flag was raised, and the cauldron was once again lite to tell the world the 2012 Paralympics were to begin. The end of the OC was accented with fireworks over the stadium and a very moving finale song, I am what I am, performed by Beverly Knight (and others). I was moved to tears but had great excitement to what was to come in the next 12 days of competition. Got home about 1 AM still wired from the OC…
Couldn’t sleep….After a horrid few hours of sleep (time zone zombie), I got up just in time to have breakfast and head back down to the Olympic Park in the east side of greater London. What an incredible site as the train pulls into the Stratford Station! The competition buildings are very creative in their design but mold to the land like they have always been there. I love that a good chunk of the venues are located at this one site so it makes it easier to get to a variety of competition throughout the day. Athletics (track and field), wheelchair basketball (actually at two sites in the qualification matches), wheelchair rugby, goal ball, cycling in the Velodrome, aquatics, wheelchair tennis, and football-5-a-side/7-a-side (soccer) are all located here. ExCel is another main site for venue competition as is located about 25-30 minutes away by bus. Boccia, powerlifting, table tennis, sitting volleyball, judo, and wheelchair fencing competition are to be held in this large exhibition center.
Archery, shooting, wheelchair marathon, road cycling, equestrian, rowing, and sailing contests are held at other sites throughout the London area. As a member of the press, I have access to easier entrance into the park and transportation between its various venues as well as down at the other sites I mentioned.
I am blown away by the support and knowledge base of the British fans for the Paralympic Games. The competition is sold out; persons I talk with on the train to/from my hotel to the park are consistently saving they wished they had tickets. And (I know I am generalizing but it is what I see) they know about the various disability sports. You cannot believe the roar of the crowd when a British competitor is announced or medals…it is deafening! And there is constant coverage on television (one broadcasting station reported a peak audience of 11.2 million viewers), radio, and in the newspaper about the competition at these games. Compare that to no-live US NBC coverage at all only occasional highlights on its cable station and filmed Youtube broadcasts by the US Paralympics. It is shameful.
Saw my first US gold medal of the games…Jessica Long won the 100m butterfly in her class. Long was adopted from a Russian orphanage when she was 13 months old…because of a congential anomaly where her fibulas were missing in her lower legs, Jessica was unable to walk… at 18 months, her legs were amputated below the knee so she could be fitted with prosthetics. US won a total of 6 medals for today…Pretty exciting…Enough…I need to sleep; it is 4AM and I am beat.
Little sleep again…grrrrrrrr. Breakfast and back to the park. I wanted to check out the Excel venues today and was able to cover/photo the US vs. China women’s sitting volleyball team, poked my head in at powerlifting, and watched judo. I headed back to Aquatics to watch a wounded Afghanistan veteran, Brad Snyder, compete in the men’s 100m freestyle finals in his division. He was blinded less than a year ago in an IED explosion. He won the gold metal and had a number of fans in the stands who were there to support him. I was so proud/happy for him that I was cheering in the photo area (sorta a no-no). The playing of the US anthem for his gold medal ceremony had an additional connotation that was not lost on any American in the venue at that moment. Jessica Long also got her second gold in the 400m freestyle finals…US earned a total of five medals for today’s competition. Got home early at 1030 and went to bed at midnight…maybe tonight I will get some ZZZZZs.
Yea!!!!!! Got some sleep. Headed out to the park to check out what I wanted to cover today. I decided to focus on athletics later in the day and took a few hours to go by the underground (Tube) to one of the largest outdoor food stalls/antique faire/flea markets in London called the Portobella Market. What fun but hard to walk around! There were people and tour buses everywhere! Needed a bit of retail therapy before heading back to the competition☺ Found a nice leather jacket for 7 pounds (about $11 dollars)!
Back at the park, I hustled out to the Olympic Stadium to get a good photo position because of the upcoming qualification heats in the 200m T44 class in which Oscar Pistorius would be competing. Oscar (aka Blade Runner because of his ‘J’ blade prosthetics) will have participated in both 2012 Olympics and Paralympics track competition this summer. He has long been an avid proponent to allowing athletes with disabilities to compete along side athletes without disabilities. Because of this media fame and visibility, everyone here knows who Oscar is and that was witnessed tonight when a huge deafening fan roar occurred as he entered the track. There were three heats tonight with Pistorius in the last one. The first heat competition established a new world record in the 200m…Oscar answer that in the third heat with breaking (shattering) that newly established WR by over 40 seconds. The crowd went wild…more to come on this in the finals. There is a US athlete, Blake Leeper, who may be the one to give Oscar a run for his money (sorry, I just had to say that☺). Interesting note…he has the same level of disability as Oscar (bilateral below knee amputation); note to self—is if fair to have T44s compete with T43s (unilateral below the knee amputation)? Are T44s’ sprinting gait more similar, biomechanically, to sprinters without disabilities as opposed to those with asymmetrical gaits due to a unilateral amputation? I imagine this has been researched but I need to look into it.