I was at an event yesterday afternoon where Paralympians past and present were speaking. John Register, who represented the United States at the Paralympics in several sports after a catastrophic knee injury sustained as an Olympic trials hurdler left him a lower limb amputee, told us the Olympic and Paralympic Games are the closest thing to Peace on Earth. Americans, eh? Watched Oprah once too often if you ask me... then again maybe he has a point.
I've seen and heard a lot this past week at the Paralympics London 2012 which has, put simply, made me feel good. No artificial highs required here because the Olympic Park is already full of the real McCoy, and I say that as someone who is supremely suspicious of organised fun.
Take the Games Makers, for instance. Late on Sunday night as a stadium full of satisfied sports fans traipsed gently towards the now famous Javelin train to central London, the young man whose job it is to keep several thousand people calm and happy while they wait didn't put a foot wrong. No forced cheeriness, just a hint of a smile in the voice that said, "You won't like this but there might be a bit of a delay". Group sigh, group feet shuffle, and the low murmur of thousands saying variations on the same theme.
"Anyone having a birthday?" he asks. You guessed it. The next minute we're all singing "Happy Birthday" to... I honestly don't remember who, but it didn't matter. We were bonding over nonsense. Then came "If you're happy and you know it..." Hmmm. He realised pretty soon that would only go so far with the grown-ups. His real triumph, though, was in how he delivered the news that the Javelin wouldn't be coming for two hours. Somehow we didn't seem to mind and I'm not imagining it when I say I think everyone said an individual "Thank you and goodbye" to him as we took alternative routes.
Then there's the crowd who come to cheer and wave and chat on the radio every day between 12 and 2pm with me and my guests. Some come and stay while others swing by en route to lunch or a sports venue. One little girl, aged about four, was sitting on her dad's shoulders as the hundreds around her roared every time Jody Cundy showed them his bronze medal from the cycling competition. She can't have known much about it but she understood enough to whisper, once the cheering had stopped, "Well done". The cute-o-meter went off the scale.
Dame Kelly Holmes joined me and Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson on air and the lunchtime crowd went wild. Her double triumph in the Athens Olympics of 2004 clearly as fresh in their minds as her legs were on the nights she took gold in the 800m and 1500m on the track. We sent a roving mic into the crowd and, as the two women took questions from the lucky few, it struck me that here we had our own double Olympic triumph. An Olympian with two golds and a Paralympian with 11 sitting side by side at the Paralympic Games surrounded by the same crowd, the same need for heroes and the same respect for achievement. Could the spectators at Stoke Mandeville who witnessed the first of the Paralympics have imagined they would come this far?
Peace on Earth it might not be, but a lesson in harmony probably isn't stretching it too far.Reuse content