A year on and I still miss the Olympics/Paralympics. It was such an amazing time to be in London, the atmosphere was amazing and the city had never looked so good. I blogged a few times last summer about the games and was fortunate enough to get tickets and attend lots of free events during the two London 2012 games. When I heard British Athletics and Sainsburys were organising Anniversary Games in the Olympic Stadium, I knew I had to get tickets. When the tickets went on sale in April, it was quite a lengthy and exasperating process to get them – lots of ‘unavailable’ and ‘sold out’ and having to repeat myself numerous times. In the end, I was ultimately successful and secured two tickets to the Paralympian day on Sunday 28 July 2013.
Although I had been in the Olympic Park during the actual 2012 games, I had never been in the stadium until now. Along with my mother, godmother and another friend, we were up early on a Sunday morning armed with our 2012 merchandise, Union flags, suncream and our cameras. The Olympic Park is now the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and very different to what it was a year ago. Large parts of it resemble a building site as they transform it into a new residential area. Despite the sheer volume of people (the stadium has a 80,000 capacity), the flow of the pedestrian traffic was pretty smooth from the Westfield shopping centre at Stratford into the stadium itself. There were numerous food and drink stalls just outside the stand entrances so spectators would be fed and watered during the few hours of athletics.
Upon entering the stadium, we found our seats, which were pretty comfortable considering they were hard plastic. The stadium did actually feel smaller than I expected after watching it on TV, but even the seating high in the stands, you had a good view of the action on the field. Throughout the day, there were several sports going on at the same time – the Men’s Discus F44 and Women’s Long Jump F42/44 were two of the first events running simultaneously. Depending on where you were seated in the stadium, there was a chance to get a good look at one of the sports, while the track events were clearly visible to all.
Just as we saw last summer, there was wide support for all Paralympians – regardless of nationality – as they were announced at start lines and competed. Of course, the biggest cheers were saved for Team GB athletics, including the stars of last summer David Weir, Hannah Cockroft and Jonnie Peacock, who all won gold medals. This year, it was more golds for David and Hannah, however Jonnie was pushed into third by Brazil’s Alan Olivera in the 100 metres men T43/44. Richard Whitehead pulled off a stunning win in the 200 metres men’s T42 win, grabbing a flag and sharing his glory with the whole stadium on his enthusiastic victory lap. Weir, who won four golds last year, brought the games to a great close by passing the finish line first in the 1 mile T54 far ahead of his competitors. He later admitted he thought his time could have been better, but the crowd didn’t care, giving the ‘Weirwolf’ a standing ovation. Dan Greaves, who won silver last summer, managed a gold this time as he won the Discus F44.
While it wasn’t as high-profile as the Olympics and Paralympics, the Anniversary Games definitely brought back that infectious excitement and pride of last summer. So many people had dug out their 2012 merchandise from the back of their wardrobes to wear with pride. I must confess I found it quite emotional watching the athletes accept their medals. Watching Paralympians who have overcome disability to perform sport at such high levels is so inspiring and admirable. Now if only we could do this every year!
- Richard Whitehead is running the length of Britain in the aim of raising £1 million for charity. Visit his fundraising page to donate here.
For other ‘Lympics posts and photos of last summer, read It’s been a wild ride! Reflecting on my London Olympics experience or From an ad in the paper to biggest TV show in the world: How one woman became a dancer in the Olympics Closing Ceremony or Follow the Wenlocks: Olympic discovery trails around London or Olympic Torch Relay comes to Crystal Palace or They put the Great into Great Britain: Team GB’s victory parade