As anyone who has met me since the 27th of July can testify, I got kind of into the Olympics. By kind of, I mean the showjumpers made me cry. Love!! So when my lengthy efforts to get my hands on some Paralympics tickets were (finally!) rewarded, I was more than a little excited. I finally made it to the incredible Olympic Park on Sunday, and well – it was worth the wait.
My Paralympic experience started just before dawn (on a Sunday!), and when I spotted my first Gamesmaker on the platform at 7.30 I genuinely got tingles. I was really on my way! Nearly everyone on our train into central London was heading to the games, and our Team GB t-shirts and Union Jack were greeted with knowing smiles by the other passengers. This was my first taste of the truly unique Olympic atmosphere I’d heard so many people talking about – seriously, I’ve never been on such a friendly Tube. I’ve never been on a Tube that’s any kind of friendly! By the time we got off the train at Stratford that excited buzz was everywhere.
We crossed the bridge under massive pink signs flashing ‘Good morning, welcome to London 2012’, and then there it was – the Olympic Stadium. Just amazing. I now understand what the word ‘breathtaking’ really means. Our tickets were for the morning athletics session, and after a quick hot chocolate break and run-around of the Orbit tower (plus Mobots in as many places as possible – see below) we were itching to get inside.
The stadium is enormous, and even more awe-inspiring in reality than on the television. Elegant columns taper down to create entry ways studded with coloured Perspex panels, with floodlights circling the rim like the points of a crown. We walked up the stairs to the tune of Coldplay’s Paradise –spine-tingling!! It was already busy, which for 10am at the Paralympics is no mean feat. Apparently Beijing only pre-sold a couple of thousand Paralympic tickets – we sold 2.5 million. Oh. Yeah. As we came out of the stairway I turned to the boyf and said – “Make sure you remember this – you’re only ever going to see this for the first time once.” So we stood, and we gawped, and took more photos… and then took our seats!
We were right opposite the beautiful cauldron, and had a great view. I had to keep pinching myself thinking that the Opening Ceremony, Jess Ennis’ gold, Usain Bolt’s record wins – everything I’d been so engrossed by over the past few weeks – this was where it all actually happened.
I was pleased that we got athletics tickets, as it meant we got to see a real mixture of events, including javelin, shot put, long jump, and lots of different track races – blind runners with guides, wheelchair racers, and runners with ‘blades’. A lot of the events run at the same time, with the commentator directing your attention and filling you in on the athletes’ statistics and scores. One of the best moments of the day came when the commentator called for quiet for the start of a track race, just as an enthusiastic new arrival to our block of seating shouted, ‘Block 247, give us a cheer!!’ Our block got told off before the next one…
The stadium was packed out and the noise for Team GB was unlike anything I’ve ever heard. It followed wheelchair racer Shelly Woods round the track like a roaring Mexican wave, filling me with glee every time it reached us, the stands a sea of Union Jack flags. We saw Stef Reid take silver in the long jump and Bridgend boy Aled Davies get gold in the discus, encouraging our Canadian neighbours to join us in cheers of ‘Wales, Wales!’ Now that’s my kind of international relations.
Once our session ended we were free to wander around the park, and we quickly ticked the Aquatic Centre, Velodrome and Riverbank Arena off our ‘must-see’ list. We also spent an hour recharging our batteries on the grass by the big screen, watching the tandem cycling – and hearing the crowds cheering from the Velodrome behind us!
It was an absolutely fantastic experience. So many moments will stick with me for a very long time. Every time I looked at the Stadium my spine tingled. But the best moment of the day was undoubtedly getting to hold a very real, very heavy, gold medal.
It belonged to Swiss 5000m wheelchair racer Edith Wolf, who we had seen on the podium just a few hours before. To be able to say congratulations to a real life Paralympic champion was just amazing – Edith was truly awe inspiring, and very down to earth.
We left the park very tired, but very happy. The Olympic and Paralympic Games have been such an incredible moment for Great Britain, and I just know I’m going to remember this summer forever. And now, after Sunday, I’m so happy that I can say, ‘I was there’.