So far in this series I had only been around the margins of London 2012’s Olympic Games. Things were about to be different. When September’s Paralympics came around, when almost the whole of Britain wanted to this great summer to roll on and on forever, I finally got into the midst of the action with real, actual tickets!
Over two days I would see live sport at the ExCel Exhibition Centre in the afternoon, the Olympic Stadium in the evening, and the second day would be spent at Brands Hatch. A busy two days!
September 6th, 2012 – Afternoon
As with the visit in the summer the morning was spent taking the train from Dorset to London Waterloo and making my way to the venue. I’d wanted to try the brand new cable car across the Thames but hadn’t yet found a reason to go all that way over there – I mean who would put it there and expect it to be used? Yet as luck would have it, it turns out the fastest way from Waterloo to the ExCel is to take the tube to the Millennium Dome (the ‘O2 Arena’ as I suppose we have to call it) and use the cable car, which plonks you down about half a mile from the ExCel.
This part of London is a mix of the exhibition hall, conference centres, restaurants and so forth. It used to be the famous sprawling docks of the city and some tributes remain as a legacy.
The first thing to do was negotiate the notoriously thorough London 2012 securit, which was as restrictive as airport security: can’t take in more than 100ml of fluid, can’t bring your own drinks, can only bring a small rucksack bag which needed to be emptied in front of them. Not particularly helpful to those who didn’t have time to check into their hotel beforehand (i.e. me) so I had to travel light. The staff, whether G4S or Armed Forces personnel (a lot of RAF) were immensely friendly though and everyone was passing through easily.
I had a day pass so I could go wherever I liked. The ExCel was hosting several sports although several coincided so I had to plot my moves. It was quite difficult as you never knew when something might end, and there were quite a lot of people around especially when there was a break between sessions. The worst part was when all sessions ended at once and everyone was queuing to get in to the next one.
Nearest the door: table tennis. Let’s do that first.
Within a few minutes I realised four things:
One, wow lots of games at once this is a bargain!
Two, watching from a distance the tables are quite small and so is the ball.
Three, I don’t know anything about any form of tennis except some basics. In fact this whole Paralympic experience was the first time I’d attended a sporting event without knowing anything about the sports or their competitors.
Four, as a motorsport fan when I’m trackside I am accustomed to having a radio in my ear with commentary provided by the circuit or the championship. At the Paralympics there was no commentary, although I’d not brought my radio anyway!
I was confused for a while especially as the crowd on one side of the arena was getting really animated and were cheering one of the games near to them, which made me think I’d missed something in the game I was watching! I hadn’t, they were just watching a different thing.
I’d perhaps naively expected several screens perhaps with one for each table, and very clear modern scoreboard. What we had were a few fairly small screens all focussed on the same match and an old-fashioned single-colour scoreboard right outta the 70s with everything abbreviated so you didn’t know what it meant (unless you did). For the year 2012 at an event sponsored by a giant electronics company I was not impressed.
It was fun though. Just because they are in wheelchairs doesn’t mean the game is any slower. I’d say it is a lot more impressive playing in a chair rather than leaping around trying to hit the ball, your reactions have to be very fast to hit the ball before it goes out of your more limited reach and that in turn makes for a very rapid game… or a lot of misses.
I was on the verge of moving but I started to get really into the game happening in front of me, what I think was Turkey vs Russia. It was a team event and these weren’t in chairs so I guess they were partially-sighted or something. There was a singles, then another singles between the other two, then they finished off playing doubles. I’ve been to Turkey and liked it so I was pulling for them.
I could see the scores just next to the umpire there and on the screen at the back (just!). It was a close contest, which is why I didn’t move over to the other stand to watch the British athletes! My memory faded now but I think Turkey just about won. It was close all the way through.
And there was good support for the British team. When the game in front of me finished I decided not to stay, instead I went back out into the atrium and head to the fencing which was on at the same time.
I really liked the idea of wheelchair fencing. I just couldn’t see how it would work, from what I’ve seen of fencing one of the key components of it is the ability to move back and forth to attack or defend, yet these guys were sat in chairs which were strapped to the ground and couldn’t move. How could they have a swordfight?
As it turned out it was fantastic. Such a fun sport! Such a fast sport as well.
I didn’t have an optimum position so it was hard to see, and again lots of contests to follow which again I found difficult. The nearest me happened to be two Frenchman which I didn’t think was fair on the French team!
I missed a lot though. I thought I was being clever in doing tennis first and fencing second but when I stayed longer at the tennis I’d forgotten that would mean less time at the fencing (even though there should’ve been a clear 1hr15min of fencing after the tennis ended which wasn’t the case). Just inexperience with the sports – had I known beforehand that I’d end up liking fencing I’d have allowed more time for it! The second session wasn’t to start until 5pm and I couldn’t stay that long.
After lunch and a lot of waiting around for the next set of sessions I gave up on Sitting Volleyball thanks to the sheer mass of people. It would’ve taken ages to get in. I wanted to watch that but so did everybody else! So I went to see boccia instead.
Boccia turned out to be quite boring. It was basically a form of bowls with a shorter field of play and about as interesting as bowls, which is to say ‘not very’. If it had been a variant of skittles or ten pin bowling I’d have been more interested but I suppose they’re a bit harder to throw from a wheelchair.
But again, some Brits were in there doing well with a lot of home support and the home crowds were cheering in the right places so they clearly knew their sport so good on ’em. Probably says a lot that I was happier watching the synchronised sweepers.
Time To Go
And that was pretty much it. I was there for five hours and saw three sports, queued for lots of things, and after not knowing what to expect I actually came away wishing I’d got there earlier and had more time. I really did enjoy it. Not at all bad for what I’d previously thought was just a £10 ‘filler’ to waste the afternoon before the trip to Stratford!
I couldn’t stay any later though, I was off somewhere exciting: The Olympic Stadium!
This is part five of my series of posts on London 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games. There are two later parts.
- Part 1 – London 2012 Olympics – Weymouth Preparing
- Part 2 – London 2012 Olympics – Women’s Football in Cardiff
- Part 3 – London 2012 Olympics – Torch Relay & London Atmosphere
- Part 4 – London 2012 Olympics – Hyde Park Triathlon
- Part 5 – London 2012 Paralympics – ExCel Arena [THIS POST]
- Part 6 – London 2012 Paralympics – Olympic Stadium
- Part 7 – London 2012 Paralympics – Alex Zanardi at Brands Hatch
- Photo Albums: Olympics / Paralympics