Thursday, September 13, 2012

Can Anything Top The Olympics?

The Olympics were phenomenal.  I came away having spent time in the best company, and occasions with family and friends had left me with the most precious memories.

And after a short break to catch our breath it was onto the Paralympics.  To be honest I wasn't really up for it as much as I had been the Olympics.  I suspect this was in part due to them being 'post-Gathering' and so I wasn't staying up till gone 1am every night presenting me the opportunity to watch endless TV.

I guess with all these things it just needs a hook.  Something to catch me.  And reading Motor Sport Retro that Alex Zanardi, the ex F1 driver who lost his legs in a horrendous Indy Cart accident, would be competing in the hand cycle events immediately had me tuning in and once more on the hunt for tickets.

September 5 - Time Trial

The Time Trial was first up, and as with all the Paralympics 'road' events it was to be help at Brands Hatch.  Tickets sorted for me, the kids and my 'official olympics buddy' Claire and after the most ridiculous and enormous diversion around the venue we met up at Brands mid morning.

Wicker cyclists were there to greet us, with riders already tackling the famous Kent venue in the background.

Considering in the glory days of Fogarty and WSB Brands used to hold over 100,000 people I never thought the hand cycling would sell out.  But it did.  Which confused me.  Upon arrival it all became clear - only a small part of the track was visable for viewing, with the athletes themselves leaving the track to incorporate local roads as well as a section of the famous venue.

I think I've posted before about the Gamesmakers with the loudspeakers sat upon lifeguards chairs.  Those chaps are great, and I've been eyeing up getting Alfie into one of those seats since we first arrived at Greenwich.  Arriving that bit later at Brands meant one such Gamesmaker had vacated his position which presented an opportunity I was NOT about to miss.  

We grabbed some food and set about enjoying the day.  There were a number of classes running, your chosen machine often decided by your disability.  These included modified bicycles, tandems, hand cycles and tricycles.

With some food inside us we took a wander, and headed in the direction of the grandstand to see what our seats were like.  En route we stopped to grab a coffee.  The queue wasn't massive, but the wait sure was!  Claire queued for no less than 835 minutes!

OK, maybe it wasn't quite that long, but is was certainly so long that Alfie decided he could enjoy a sly ice cream without any risk of having to share it!

When we reached the stand it turned out we could sit wherever we liked.  Sarah Storey had just won Gold for GB and it seemed an ideal time to get a good view of the podium.  Sadly all seats were pretty poor and the scoreboard was all that we saw of the medal ceremony!

We opted instead to search for a better position close to the barriers.  We got lucky, bagged our space, and bedded down for an afternoon of 'lmpics!

 We were situated just after the final bend, with a little over 200 metres to the finish line.

As with the Olympics, the crowd wasn't all British.

 Alfie spent some time watching with Claire.

Alex Zanardi set off at 3:15pm and it wasn't long till he completed his first 8km lap and came flying past us.

Zanardi's hand bike was designed by himself, and I guess all competitors must have bespoke vehicles depending on their needs and abilities.  I was blown away by how different the cycles were and many were real works of art.

Zanardi went on to win gold for Italy.  He won it by nearly 30 seconds, people like that really are an inspiration.  On crossing the finish line he jumped out of his bike and lifted it above his head.  Reading that paints a picture in your mind, or at least it did with me when I heard it, but I never imagined he did this!

I'm guessing that hand cycle is pretty light then!

With the day drawing to a close we went in search of Pizza.  Claire asked if she could wear Essie - I'm saying nothing about chickens, eggs, or being broody here - and the fun of the day finally caught up with my dear boy.


And with that we headed for home.  The kids slept the whole way - the day had been that much fun!

September 7 - Wheelchair Basketball

My quest for Olympic Park tickets continued.  There wasn't a lot else that really interested me apart from the athletics.  That was until I caught a few minutes of wheelchair basketball one evening on Channel 4.  Wheelchair basketball is awesome, far far better than that stupid 'legged' version!  Proper end to end stuff, amazing talent on show, and its a real 'contact' no contact sport.  You may have gathered I have absolutely no idea on the rules.

Anyway, you can probably see where this is going, tickets became available and so I bought them.  I then rang Claire and said something along the lines of "cancel whatever plans you have, you need to come to the O2 with me to help me look after the kids".  Actually I think I pitched it a little better than that, something a little closer to "are you free tomorrow, I have tickets to the wheelchair basketball at the O2 which is going to be totally A.May.Zing!"

Claire had to work the morning, but she decided to sacrifice her afternoon nap in the spirit of the Paralympics and we agreed to meet at the O2 once she'd ridden across after work.  And so I negotiated the trains. And tube. And London.  On my own.  In rush hour.  It wasn't too bad actually, my hatred of double buggies paid dividends and using a single+sling approach work out nicely.

Upon reaching the O2 - sorry, I mean North Greenwich Arena - I figured I'd better get a photo of us.  I've got pretty capable at those 'stick your arm out, point camera roughly at your face, hit button' type photos.  This was not one of my finest moments though.

Our tickets were for the upper tier, but were not seat specific and so we found ourselves some space to spread out.  There were four games to be played during the day - we missed the first but the second was about to start.  This was the womens match between China and Canada.

The game was fantastic and it really ebbed and flowed from one side to the other.  A late comeback from Canada really had the crowd on their feet but China ended up worthy winners.  Alfie really enjoyed it, especially the cheering and shouting bits.  Esme preferred to practice her walking in the steepest stand I've sat in for a long while!

With the game over we headed out to grab a drink and some chicken wings whilst Esme enjoyed some shut eye in the sling.

The balcony that you come out to overlooked the entrance within the O2 and so we kept a watchful eye out for Claire to arrive, hoping she might make it before the next game started.

She arrived shortly after tip-off and we ventured round to the opposite side of the arena to catch the action from a different view point.

I don't remember so much of that game, this is most likely because my daughter was once again doing her best to launch herself down flights of stairs and my son determined to launch open bottles of water over my back.

During the game we came to the conclusion that due to the stewards not checking tickets and there being numerous empty seats we could probably get downstairs for the last game of the day.  We made our move, found an entrance we liked the look of and made a break for few empty pews amongst a large section of reserved seats.  No-one cared though and we got a cracking view of the action for the Spain vs Turkey group game.

It meant I could actually get some half decent shots of the action too.

Alfie loved it!

Our day ended before the game had finished.  The kids were clearly tired and in an attempt to miss rush hour we headed for the exit at about 4pm.  I got lucky on the way home - Alfie and Esme slept pretty much the whole way and I hit every connection perfectly with no waiting for tubes or trains.

Another great end to another great Paralympic day!

The Paralympics were unquestionably the most successful of all time, and many would argue a much greater event than the Olympics themselves.  Part of this is due to the Athletes, their stories, and the incredible strength they have shown to get where they are today.  Although I have always meant to, I have never actually read Alex Zanardi's autobiography but its something I'm determined to make sure I do.  Check out his website here and dig out some of the stories that can be found on there.  Its a perfect example of what makes these people so special.

I bought a London 2012 poster before the Paralympics started.  Little did I realise the words would sum up what I felt on so many occasions during the days of the Paralympics.

All my photos from the Paralympics can be found here.

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