Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Our weekend at the Paralympics

Having been lucky enough to secure some tickets for the Paralympics having run the gauntlet of the London 2012 site and won, we planned a weekend down in London with the children. We were all excited about going to Olympic Park and the children were full of chatting about it to their friends when they went back to school.

We decided to stay over down there, rather than stay with family as we wanted to be there early. Luckily, I managed to find reasonably accommodation a few miles from a Central line station with a car park. We collected the children an hour early from school on the Friday and set off down south.

We had heard how warm it was but still, we arrived early evening at our hotel and it was very warm. After rearranging the room so that the children were in one end of the room, we finally got them to bed but Monkey would NOT go to sleep. However, once I tried to sleep, I knew how he felt. Once I finally got to sleep, I woke with a start about two hours later and ended up awake for an hour. Four hours sleep when you are about to be walking around a lot is not a good night's sleep. The 6.30 alarm should have felt early but I was already awake!

Having left our hotel at 7.30, we were on a tube into Stratford within 15 minutes. For a Saturday morning, the tube was busy, full of other people on their way to Olympic Park. On arrival at Stratford, we followed the crowd - and the Games Makers - who were brilliant, especially with the children. (Note to companies - when you treat customers like human beings, they respond positively to you.) We breezed through security, and there we were at the entrance to Olympic Park. A good enough excuse to take this picture.


It was already hot so we took it gradually. Breakfast at the golden arches seemed inevitable to fill up hungry tummies (even though they had had things to eat before we left) and after our filling our water bottles and a quick look in the megastore, we wandered to our first session - athletics in the Olympic Stadium. This was our view one way.


And this was the other.


Thankfully, we were in the shade which at least kept us cool! In terms of British interest, this was a quiet session. I think there were only 2 or 3 British athletes involved and only one qualified for a final that evening. It didn't matter though - there was lots to see for the children. If you were ever worried about taking children to an athletics meet, don't - there were lots of different things going on and none of it requiring your attention for too long. The range of athletes was broad too - there were people in wheelchairs racing and throwing, men with visual impairments doing the triple jump, runners with cerebral palsy - the only thing we were missing were any amputees. We saw a number of different finals and we had lots of victory ceremonies - some from the night before and some winners from the session itself.

It was my first live athletics meeting and it was pretty special. The track looks a lot bigger than you would think - 400 m seems a long long way to sprint from close up. I was completely in awe of all of the athletes.

Despite having tickets for the tennis that started before the athletics finished, we stayed to the bitter end, which means we caught the victory ceremony for the women's javelin F37/38 final with the flowers presented by Clare Balding who got the biggest cheer of the morning.

By the time we came out of the stadium, it was very hot, very busy and we had a long walk ahead of us across the park to Eton Manor where the wheelchair tennis was taking place. We bought ice creams to keep us cool on the way but it was still boiling and there was very little shade for the 20 minute or so walk. When we got there, the bronze medal match that was on was deep in the final set - in fact, by the time we were let in, one of the players was serving for the match and subsequently won it! Our seats were very high up - so high that we could only just make it to our seats in time for play to restart in breaks between games. The view was worth it though.


We also had great views of the Velodrome and other Olympic Park venues, as well as the Shard, the North Greenwich arena and in the distance in the other direction, Monkey spotted Leyton Orient! Eton Manor is a bizarre venue really as it's only attached to the park by a bridge that crosses a major road.

There were three gold medal matches on, one after the other. First was the quad singles, featuring the Israeli player Noam Gershony who had beat Peter Norfolk earlier in the week. And he was unbelievably talented and fairly quickly won the match against his American opponent. After his victory ceremony, we had the women's doubles featuring the legendary Dutch player Esther Vergeer, who is on a winning run of 470 singles matches. Because the players weren't quad players, you could see the difference in play as the ball was being hit much harder and being doubles, it was more quickly paced. There was drama when midway through the set, the umpire suddenly stopped play as one of the ball girls fainted and had to be carried away on a stretcher. I did say it was hot! Although we were in direct sunlight at first, the sun disappeared behind the stand and put us once again in the shade.

Although the match bounced around a bit between the two Dutch pairs, the match was again a fairly straightforward victory for Vergeer and Buis. The victory ceremony followed, presented by Tessa Jowell wearing what looked like slippers from a distance but turned out to be dark pink trainers; interesting choice with the smart dress she was wearing. And the bronze medallists were British, meaning it was not a clean sweep for the Dutch!

The final match was the men's singles, contested by a French amputee and a Japanese player. These guys racked the hitting power even further and there were some breathtaking shots. It was getting dark by this time and the children getting bored but thankfully, it turned out once again to be fairly simple and a win for the Japanese.

At the end of the tennis, we headed out of Eton Manor and back to Stratford Gate. However, we hadn't got very far when we noticed a sign to say that the Basketball Arena was letting anyone with a ticket to a valid event in so we decided to go and catch up with some wheelchair rugby. A bonus sport!


We caught the last few minutes of Belgium v France then the first quarter of GB v Sweden! We decided to leave after that because the children were shattered and we had a long walk ahead of us back to the station. On the way back, we got a shot of the stadium all lit up.


As we walked back to the station, we passed a bar at Westfield just as Oscar Pistorius's race started so we stopped to watch that too. Perfect!

By the time we got back to the hotel, it was nearly 11. The children went to sleep very quickly and so did we! We had another busy day ahead of us but I was awake early again - to find Monkey approaching Missy Woo's bed with her baby Pom toy in his hand. After seeing me, he just placed it on her bed and got back in his own bed. I thought he was just going to lie there but I soon realised he was asleep. We got up, showered and packed the cases before Missy Woo woke up. We had to wake Monkey up!

Fortified this time by a full breakfast at the hotel, we set back off for the Olympic Park. This time, we just had park access tickets and there was no chance of getting into another venue for free as there was little left on - just the 7 a side football and the finals of the wheelchair rugby. Again, it was boiling. We shopped in the megastore and Missy Woo wanted to go to the Mascot House. I took Monkey to watch the Marathon at Park Live but it was too hot - and no shade! Then we headed to an exhibition where you could try the wheelchairs they use in basketball, the hand bikes and a wheelchair obstacle course.

Blurry because he was so fast!

Then, we wandered up to the Orbit - the only major piece of shade in the whole park and ate lunch, listening to the rehearsals for the Closing Ceremony, so we were treated, in part, to something of a Coldplay concert. They announced that the park was closing in less than an hour so we headed back out to the tube to start the long journey home.

It was a brilliant weekend. Paralympic sport is so incredibly skilful, it takes your breath away and we were very lucky to see not one, but three, sports. We also feel very fortunate to have been in the Olympic Park on the last day that it was open to the public for the 2012 Games. It is something we will all remember forever and the children will be able to tell their children and their grandchildren - we went to see the London 2012 Paralympics.I love that they see disabled person as different rather than helpless - fantastic when you consider that they don't have much experience or contact with disabled people in their everyday lives. It has taught them that nothing is impossible if you try.

For that reason alone, the Olympics and Paralympics really have inspired a generation.
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