Event changed minds about where the boundaries of sport actually lie
If all the Paralympics did was give a voice to fill that silence, the games wouldn’t have caught on like they did over the past 12 days. Instead, they went one better and filled it with eloquence. That was the beginning and end of their success.
Which isn’t to say that everything was wonderful. It wasn’t. For all Seb Coe’s boasting about selling out the 2.4 million tickets, very few venues outside of the Olympic Stadium and the Aquatic Centre were far beyond half full. The atmosphere was quite drab at times, especially at some of the indoor events like wheelchair basketball and table tennis.
The constant reminders over the PA system that “What you’re watching here, ladies and gentlemen, is elite sport”, got past the point of protesting too much about a day and a half in. A lot of it was elite but some of it very obviously wasn’t. Around 4,200 athletes chased 1,509 medals. In the Olympics last month, just shy of 11,000 athletes competed for 962 medals.
Granted, the numbers are crude and imprecise but in general when there’s a medal for nearly one in three Paralympians as opposed to nearly one in 11 Olympians, it stands to reason that it can’t all be elite.
Then there’s a classification system. Complaints that it is complicated should be ignored. Of course it’s complicated. Sport is complicated, disability is complicated. A system for making disabled sport work is complicated squared.
A more legitimate charge is that it sometimes goes too far in trying to provide a level playing field. The sheer volume of swimming events (148!) was comical, especially when some of them could barely scrape up enough entrants for two semi-finals. After a while, it started to smack of the one thing Paralympic sportspeople hate – a massive sports day where everybody gets a go.
These are early days though and modifications will come. The amount of world records that tumbled over the week across a host of disciplines tells you how seriously Paralympic sport is being taken now. We’re not quite at year zero with it but we’re not very far along either. These little creases and bumps will be ironed out over time.
A lot of hands will be wrung now about what to do with Paralympic sport, declarations made about the eyes that have been opened to disability and the boundaries broken down. But the world spins and the footballers struggle to beat Kazakhstan and London 2012 goes back in its box. I’s just reality. The silence isn’t as deep now, though. For anyone who was there, it can’t be again. Not when a man on one leg can clear a bar his own height. That’s the sort of noise that will echo for quite a while.