T54 5,000 metre Gold Medallist, David Weir, winning a thrilling race at the Olympic Stadium in London on Sunday September 2nd. Image via Guardian.co.uk/picture by Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP
If you’re anything like me – a bitter old cynic, possessed of a smoking husk where his heart once was – this summer has been the proverbial game changer.
I started the year not caring a jot about the Olympics and wishing that the hype would go away – I had no intent of watching the Games and intended to spend the event self-consciously shunning it in a pointless and self-aggrandizing one man protest.
Then the Olympics began.
Picture via Guardian.co.uk/ Image taken by Julian Stratenschulte/EPA
To say that the spectacle, competition and atmosphere won me over is something of an overstatement. My wife, always a fan of athletics and pretty much any sport which isn’t football, played some part in that conversion by knowing what was going on and explaining the significance of individual races, events and seemed to have a running Team GB medal tally on her person at all times.
The Games ended and I found myself wondering whether the same countrywide fervour and open-minded embrace of all things sporting would extend to the following Paralympic Games – because history seems to indicate that people who’ve just enjoyed the quote-unquote ‘main event’ seem to find their attention wandering when Paralympians converge to compete on the world stage.
Rather brilliantly, and in a way which actually has me slightly tearing up as I type, it would appear that my worries about a mass exodus of interest have been comprehensively quashed as viewing figures in the UK for Channel Four‘s coverage are high and the various stadia for the individual events are attended by enthusiastic fans whose love of Team GB has extended to this utterly inspirational and fantastic display of athletic endeavour.
Without wishing to offend any American readers, I’ll take the exhilarating spectacle of wheelchair basketball over the US ‘Dream Team’ steamrollering their competitors any day of the week. Similarly, as exciting as it is to watch Usain Bolt routinely smash through the established wisdom of how quickly a human being can run, I found the 200m duel between South African ‘Blade Runner’ Oscar Pistorious and Brazilian Alan Fonteles Cardoso Oliveira an utterly riveting race, not least because of its unexpected conclusion.
“Don’t focus on the disability – focus on the ability” was Pistorious’ request to the media (and by extension, the World) prior to the Games opening ceremony and , after nearly a week of fiercely fought and utterly compelling sport, who would argue with his assessment? That these athletes face unique physical challenges before ever getting to compete is obvious a key factor in the existence of this competition but the obvious thing to take away from the Paralympics is that this competition is every bit the equal of the Olympics in terms of quality, thrills and inspiration.
I find myself wondering why we don’t get to see this kind of competition on a more regular basis on TV – Channel Four have been doing a brilliant job in the run-up to London 2012 of positioning Paralympians and their sporting disciplines into their schedule and making sure that we knew the Games were on their way but I now wonder whether this commitment to athletes with physical challenges will extend beyond the end of this Summer.
Isn’t this the kind of sport which belongs on Channel Four – whose remit has traditionally been to offer perspectives on the world which are outside the norm? I like to think so and I really hope that they continue to bring us more of this brilliant, life-affirming sports coverage long after the glory and ceremony of the London Games have faded from memory. Give me real athletes like those of Paralympic Team GB rather than the overpaid, talent-light, half-wits of the Football Premiership any day of the week