Friday, 14 September 2012

A Paralympic Farewell

On Sunday 9th September London had to sadly face the fact it was time to say goodbye to one of its greatest Summers in a long time. No, certainly not weather-wise, but in terms of sport, history and British pride.

Admittedly a lot of us had doubted the country and whether we’d be ready in time, would we put on a good enough show, would the athletes perform and get us medals? I would say the answer is without a doubt yes and then some!

For a start even the whole atmosphere in London changed. I was away for some of the Olympics I know, but whilst I was here there was something different about it. Travel seemed easier; commuters were friendlier and even in shops/restaurants/bars staff seemed more helpful. London just seemed nicer.

Now, at just a few days after it’s all ended I can already feel the change in people and the capital.

My views on the closing ceremony really changed in the lead up to the event and on the day. At first I was excited to be at such an important event, if a tad unsure of the whole Coldplay aspect of it. Then I got super excited when Rihanna was mentioned, and again when rumours about Jay-Z started. However, after attending events and arriving to Stratford on the day I was more moved about the whole thing. How well athletes had done, how people’s views of those less abled were changing and how this was such a historic evening – regardless of which music stars it featured. That wasn’t what mattered here.

After eating and drinking in the Westfield shopping centre we made our way into the Olympic Park itself. Where we were quite disappointed to see that the 2012 Superstore was closed – my boyfriend had been planning a few purchases. As usual the Games Makers were their super-enthusiastic selves and there was a super atmosphere building. Being typical me I was a bit disappointed to see the sun had gone in and it was getting quite chilly. The last time we’d been at the venue it was overcast and I was hoping to nab some brighter photos of the various areas and buildings (everything looks better in the sun!)

Once we made our way to the Olympic stadium (to be our first and last visit), we decided we’d better get a drink quickly before entering. Outside we’d seen those beer men who carry draught beer on their backs, like you get at gigs, however within the grounds of the stadium there didn’t seem to be any. So we ended up joining a very long queue to wait for something alcoholic – not many of the stands seemed to be offering alcohol and it wasn’t all that clear which ones did.

Eventually we made our way into the stadium with just 10 minutes to go before the ‘pre-show’ and sat down to read through our guide we’d been given on the evening’s running order and what things meant in line with the ceremony’s theme.

We were up high – around 6 rows or so from the very back/top of the stadium, but we were seated near the Olympic Torch and the way the stadium is designed I didn’t feel funny headed from the height (as I’ve often felt up high at Wembley or the o2). Also our view was great; we could take it all in.

Later on – when the musical acts were on, we discovered where we were seated the artists had their backs to us and were hidden by a giant staircase. Again though, this wasn’t what the ceremony was all about and it didn’t bother us or spoil our experience.
So I’ve heard people since talk about the ceremony (after seeing it on television in the UK) that it was ‘just a Coldplay concert’. Believe me if you were there, this was far from the case. The Festival of Flame theme covered various seasons and was all about coming together – the Paralympic athletes were seated in the main arena so they were in the middle of all the action and there was constantly something going on – you just didn’t know where to look next.

Aerial acrobatics, a crop circle, a Help for Heroes tribute, a taster of Rio 2016, giant floats and items made from scrap metal, a heart of flames surrounding all the participating country flags, fireworks, the list is endless.

I also acquired a friend for the evening in the little girl sat next to me. A young girl with Downs Syndrome, named Ray (I think short for Ramona), grabbed onto my arm as soon as I sat down and wouldn’t let go. She was worried how cold I was and was trying to warm me up and continued to look after me throughout the event – pulling down my chair when it was time to sit down after any anthems, talking to me about what was happening and telling me she loved me. Bless her, she was such a lovely child and her poor Dad kept worrying she was annoying me and kept a watchful eye!

Later on she did call Trev (my boyfriend) her boyfriend and I laughed and told her she could have him!

Throughout the whole evening I felt very emotional. It was such a nice feeling in the stadium and you just felt so proud to be a part of it.

At times you just felt so sad this ceremony was signifying the end of it all – when the torch went out for instance, but then you were also mesmerised by seeing Paralympic athletes Ellie Simmonds and Jonnie Peacock and the display that followed.

Once it was all over we stayed in the stadium for a short while just taking it in and then began our journey home. Again I was expecting a nightmare experience getting into the station and the train ride home – everything flowed perfectly. Yes there were crowds but we just moved along slowly and a train arrived pretty quickly where we got a seat in an almost empty carriage.

I will never forget our experiences of the Paralympics and am so pleased my boyfriend got us tickets and I made the effort to go enjoy it, rather than remain the cynical commuter I had been previously. The Paralympics brought it all – a change in opinion, a pride to be British, tears, smiles and fireworks – no wonder people are calling it the most best Paralympics ever!

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