Faster, higher, stronger: The top 50 moments from the London 2012 Paralympics

We celebrate our favourite moments of the astonishing Paralympics, just as we did when the Olympics drew to a close. These truly are the days of our lives. Perhaps London 2012 really has changed something in all of us, forever, for better

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The Independent Online


Britain's wheelchair rugby captain, Steve Brown, broke his breastbone and four ribs in 2009 when he was catapulted from his chair. However, in his first game at London 2012 Brown showed no signs of holding back: he was flipped head over heels in his wheelchair by his USA opponent, Derrick Helton. Within seconds Brown had dusted himself down and whizzed off to hurl himself at yet another opponent.

Murder on the sports floor

It is called wheelchair rugby but the sport played at the Basketball Arena bears little resemblance to game played at Twickenham. It combines elements of basketball, handball and ice hockey. The action in "murderball", as it was originally known, is brutal, with players crashing, chin first, on to the floor – or, on one occasion, into another player's crotch. Ouch!

Battle of the Blades

It was arguably the biggest upset of either Games at London 2012. Oscar Pistorius, the poster boy of the Paralympics who became a household name as the Blade Runner, had his title taken away in the 200m T44 by Brazil's young speedster Alan Oliveira. Rather than being gracious in his dethroning, the South African who fought in the courts for the chance to use his prosthetic running blades at the Olympics, decided to blame, of all things, Oliveira's blades, saying they were too long and gave him a "ridiculous" stride-length advantage.

Cleggs peg it across the Park

The parents of James Clegg and his sister, Libby, deserve medals for their sprints between the Aquatics Centre and Olympic Stadium. After British swimmer James won bronze in the S12 100m butterfly last Sunday, the family dashed across the Olympic Park in time to see Libby claim silver in the T12 100m less than an hour later. They then had to rush back to the pool to see James get his medal, and back again to the stadium to see Libby's medal presentation.

Fastest Paralympian on Earth

He was dubbed the Usain Bolt of the Paralympics and described by Tyson Gay as "the most gifted sprinter on the planet", no pressure there then. But the Republic of Ireland's Jason Smyth proved that he remains the fastest Paralympian of all time, running the T13 100 metres in a record 10.46 seconds.

Medal mix-up

When it comes to mishaps, giving out medals to the wrong people ranks pretty high. So, it is unsurprising that Ukranian discus thrower Mariia Pomazan was less than chuffed to learn a judging error meant her gold for the F35/36 event should have been a silver – she was ordered to give it back.

Tech mates

A team of 80 prosthetists, orthotists and wheelchair technicians, including 12 welders, have been working behind the scenes at workshops in the athletes' village and at nine competition venues to help keep the Paralympians on the field of play. On the seventh day of competition alone, the experts from 18 countries made repairs to 127 wheelchairs, 21 prostheses and seven orthoses.

Korea move

Rim Ju Song only learnt to swim this year. Last week, he became North Korea's first Paralympic athlete, finishing last in his heat of the S6 50m freestyle. The country was one of 13 nations sending athletes to the Paralympic Games for the first time this year.

Wheely good

The ex-Formula One driver Alex Zanardi, who lost his legs in a horrific crash, celebrated victory in the H4 individual handcycling time trial at Brands Hatch by lifting his handcycle over his head. The Paralympic gold marked a remarkable comeback for the Italian, who was injured in a CART race crash in Germany in 2001.

The crowd

It was not just the competitors who broke records, the fans set new standards too. The seats at Beijing may have looked full, but most were filled by schoolchildren bussed in. London 2012 came closest to being a sell-out and for the first time the a Paralympic stadium had capacity crowds of paying customers – and deafening support to prove it.

Likely Storey

Nobody else stood a chance. Every time Sarah Storey got on her bike, she didn't just win, she won by miles. Storey, who has also competed for the able-bodied team, pocketed golds from time trials on the road and the velodrome, as well as the individual pursuit. Her golden finale was the road race, which she finished more than seven minutes ahead of the nearest competitor.

Full house

Maybe it was all that rum and curry in the weeks before competition, but equestrian Lee Pearson didn't manage to live up to hopes that he would beat Tanni Grey-Thompson's modern Paralympic record of 11 gold medals. He went into the Games with nine golds from three consecutive Games and added to it a full set from London of gold, silver and bronze.

Wrong note

A mishap with her music proved to be no barrier to success for British dressage rider Natasha Baker. Having won freestyle gold in Greenwich Park, she admitted that she had been forced to improvise after falling behind the music. "I think I might improvise a bit more often in the future," she said.

High flier

Fiji's Iliesa Delana leapt back on to the landing mat and jumped for joy after winning an exciting men's F42 high jump final to claim his country's first ever Paralympic gold medal. The 27-year-old amputee, Fiji's only athlete at the Games, then celebrated by running in front of the crowd with his nation's flag.

Go, Jonnie, Go

The home crowd was chanting Jonnie Peacock's name even before he got to the starting blocks. The fans' faith was rewarded with a blistering run from the Brit in the T44 100m sprint final, the blue riband event of the Games. His time of 10.9 seconds earnt him a Paralympic record, as well as victory over a highly competitive field that included Blade Runner Oscar Pistorius.

Cursing Cundy

It was the ultimate sporting tantrum. When gold-medal favourite Jody Cundy was disqualified after the starting gate failed to release properly he let rip with a torrent of rage at officials: "Everybody else gets the fucking re-ride," screamed the cyclist, throwing his water bottle on the floor and jabbing the air. He later came on to the track to apologise, saying he hoped the children had covered their ears. Just 24 hours later, he achieved some redemption by taking bronze in the 4km pursuit.


British sports fans more used to keeping quiet for tennis, golf and snooker turned the noise right down in the Copper Box, which had hosted rowdy handball crowds during the Olympics, for the sport of goalball. The library atmosphere allows the visually impaired competitors to hear bells inside the ball, which they attempt to roll into the opposing goal.

Look be-Hynd you

Brothers Sam and Oliver Hynd competed against each other in two events in the pool. Oliver came out on top in the S8 400m freestyle, winning silver ahead of his older sibling who took bronze. The 17-year-old, who also won bronze in the S8 100m backstroke, then added to his bragging rights with victory in the SM8 200m individual medley; Sam finished fourth.

The Weirwolf

When Mo Farah did the double and took Olympic gold in both the 5,000m and 10,000m, the world looked on in amazement. Now David Weir, the "Weirwolf", from south London is on track for a staggering four gold medals after taking three so far in the T54 1,500m, 5,000m and 800m. Today, he is expected to take on the wheelchair marathon.

Shoe in

You can tell Mark Skippon's job just by looking at him, thanks to his tattoo. He was part of an eight-strong team of farriers, who shod eight horses during the Paralympics in the forge at the Greenwich Park stables. Before starting work at the Olympics, Mark, 47, added the word "farrier" and the Olympic rings to an existing arm tattoo of a horse's face inside a horseshoe. He is now considering adding the Paralympics symbol. Now, that's dedication.

Weggemann's golden reclassification

USA swimmer Mallory Weggemann said she had "lost faith" in the system after she was reclassified as less disabled on the eve of the Games. But the 23-year-old paraplegic still managed to take gold in the S8 50m freestyle despite competing against those with lost function in only one limb. Another USA star, Victoria Arlen, was also engulfed in a reclassification row but won her appeal and was last night chasing gold against Ellie Simmonds in the S6 100m freestyle..

Gotcha! Boccia

Most people in Britain had probably never heard of boccia before this summer's Paralympic Games, let alone seen it. The sport, which rhymes with "gotcha", is an adapted version of boules in which players with disabilities that affect their motor skills roll red and blue leather balls. Thanks to its combination of strategy and skill, it's attracted an army of new fans.

Maroc and roll

El Amin Chentouf of Morocco shaved an enormous 30 seconds off the previous world record in the 5,000m for blind and visually-impaired runners in the Olympic Stadium. His winning time of 13 mins 53.77 secs was just over a minute behind the able-bodied record.

No time to jump ship

You would think that after doing the hard work and winning the medal, turning up on the podium would be the easy part. Not so. The Olympic Stadium announcer told the crowd at last Saturday's morning athletics session that they would not get to see the medal presentation for the men's F13 long jump because one of the medalists had failed to show.

Emotions laid bare

As soon as British table tennis player Will Bayley realised he had sealed victory to make it into the final of his event, the ecstatic 24-year-old sprinted into the arms of his coach. In wrapping his legs around said coach's ample gut, TV viewers got a glimpse of more flesh than they bargained for.

Guided to gold

When Chinese blind runner Guohua Zhou pipped Britain's Libby Clegg to the T12 100m title, she did not set any world records. But her guide runner, Lie Jie, did make history. He was among the first helpers to take gold thanks to a rule brought in for 2012 that saw guide athletes awarded medals for the first time.

Kindred spirits

Swimmer Nyree Kindred got the family medal tally off to a silver start with second place in the S6 100m backstroke, before her husband, Sascha, added another podium finish with silver in the SM6 200m individual. It was his 12th Paralympic medal but his attempt to add another medal in Friday night's 50m freestyle final ended in disqualification for Sascha. Unlucky No 13 then.

Woman's best friend

The prize for the best entrance at the Opening Ceremony went to Labrador Zenn, who came into the Olympic Stadium on the lap of Belgian sprinter Marieke Vervoort. The athlete's assistance dog had arrived in similar style off the Eurostar at St Pancras station days earlier.

Hurricane Hannah

Hannah Cockcroft began the Games by taking Britain's first gold medal on the track, thundering along in 18.06 seconds in the 100m T34 final, shaving 0.18 seconds off the Paralympic record she had set that morning.

The 20-year-old from Halifax then went back into the stadium to do it all again on Thursday night, taking gold and a Paralympic record in the 200m.

Gritted teeth

Swimmer Lu Dong's starting technique may have attracted some attention – she grips a towel between her teeth and releases her hold to launch into the water – but it was her finish in the S6 100m backstroke final that caused a buzz. The Chinese swimmer, who has no arms, broke the world record with a time of 1 min 24.71 seconds to take gold over Britain's Nyree Kindred on her grandmother's birthday. "I've never swum this fast during training, so it's a big surprise," she said afterwards.

Time of their lives

Though many of the British favourites – including Jody Cundy and Jon-Allan Butterworth – did not win their hoped-for golds, the Velodrome was again home to record-smashing performances. The Chinese had to produce a world record in the C1-5 team sprint to defeat the British team of Butterworth, Darren Kenny and Rik Wadden, who had themselves set the fastest ever speed earlier that day.

Tears of joy

It may not have been the most demonstrative of celebrations during the Games but teenage swimming sensation Ellie Simmonds was certainly one of the most emotional when she took her first gold. Touching first in the S6 400m freestyle, her mixture of sobs and smiles had much of the nation in tears too.

Jaws of victory

When South African Achmat Hassiem wants to go faster, he just imagines being chased by the great white shark that bit off his right leg when he saved his brother's life six years ago. Last week, he won a bronze medal in the 100m butterfly all the time imagining those jaws. "My little secret is obviously that I just try and imagine I'm in the ocean and I've got a four-and-a-half-metre great white shark at my feet," Hassiem said. "It's definitely good motivation."

Sinking feeling

Hassani Djae Ahamada, the Comoros Islands' only competitor, wasn't going to let the small matter of a false start – and therefore disqualification – stand in the way of his 50m of fame. Having jumped the gun in the S9 50m freestyle heats, the swimmer completed his length of the pool despite officials' efforts to stop him, and much to the delight of the crowd.

Happy Storey

Not to be outdone by the golden performance of his wife Sarah, Barney Storey took his own Paralympic gold in the velodrome. The pilot rider steered Neil Fachie to glory in the 1km tandem time trial. Sarah's mother, Mary, said: "We're just wondering how many postboxes there are in Disley to paint."

Pantomime booing

OK, so it was unfortunate for the athletes, but if you wanted a litmus test for the popularity of the government, the Games provided it. The first boo came from the crowd in the Aquatics Centre, when David Cameron presented Ellie Simmonds with her second gold. George Osborne and Theresa May also got their chance to see just what disdain the public had for them when they were booed in the Olympic Stadium.

Thierry's all gold

When Gabon's first Paralympian, Thierry Mabicka, went to Beijing he competed in an ordinary wheelchair. When about to be lapped, he was instead disqualified and marched off the track. At London 2012, he competed in a racing wheelchair for the first time and, although he came last in his 100m heat, he set a personal best time of 21 seconds.

Making a splash

Ellie Simmonds was just 13 when she won the nation's heart at Beijing. She was the darling of the Paralympic squad then, but she's reached heroic status now. Last night, she looked to add another medal to her existing 2012 tally of two golds and a bronze. Even David Cameron getting booed as he handed over her second gold couldn't cool the warm glow at the Aquatic Centre.

The end is nigh

If you wondered what the people with poles do at the Aquatics Centre, it's not fishing. They are the tappers who aid visually impaired swimmers by using the pole, with a soft ball on the end, to tap each swimmer on the head to alert them that they're approaching the end.

Net point

It's one of the most talked-about sports in the Games, and everyone from London's mayor, Boris Johnson, to Arsenal FC players has been inspired to give sitting volleyball a go. The women's team for ParalympicsGB included Martine Wright, who lost both her legs in the 7/7 London bombings, the day after the city won the bid to host the Games back in 2005.

Worst foot forward

Djibouti's Houssein Omar Hassan stumbled across the finish line a full six minutes after the rest of the 1,500m athletes in the T46 class, so it was clear something had gone wrong. It transpired that the country's sole athlete at the Games had seriously injured his foot but decided to finish anyway. In interviews afterwards he gasped for water and could only murmur the words "finish, finish". Days later, Brazilian Yohansson Nascimento fell to the floor after pulling up injured in the T46 100m but got up to hobble over the line in 1 min 30.79 secs.

Doped up

Brazilian powerlifter Bruno Pinheiro Carra had the questionable honour of

being London 2012's first Paralympian to test positive for a banned substance. The muscle-bound Carra claimed the presence of a diuretic was thanks to green tea capsules that he had taken. His is the only positive test announced so far in a Games which has been criticised for not testing enough medallists.

Cuban heels

It is easy to see how Yunidis Castillo from Cuba earned the nickname "the bullet". On Tuesday morning, she became the first woman Paralympian to win a 100m sprint in under 12 seconds, smashing the previous world record. She later produced another fastest-ever time to take gold in the 200m final.

Leap of faith

When Ukraine's Ruslan Katyshev claimed the F11 long jump gold, his feet did not have to stay behind a line, but within a large chalky take-off point from where the blind athlete's footprint was used to measure his enormous 6.46m winning jump. Blind long jump quickly won over Olympic Stadium crowds who kept schtum while guides barked out the moment athletes should leap.

Haitian hero

Gaysli Leon became the first Haitian to represent the country when he took part in the hand-cycling time trial last week. The 45-year-old, who was paralysed in the 2010 earthquake, finished 20 minutes behind everyone else, but said: "I feel like all the biggest athletes in the world. To hear the crowd cheering me on, I was so happy."

You bet

Brit Stef Reid and her husband, Canadian wheelchair racer Brent Lakatos, added extra spice to their medal quest: by betting on the outcome. Whoever won gold would not have to wash the dishes, says The Vancouver Sun newspaper. In their individual events they both struck silver – Reid in the F42/44 long jump.

See Emily play

As in the Olympics, the purple and red army of volunteers made everything happen with a smile. Emily Yates, from Skipton was one of them. Emily, 20, a wheelchair basketball player who didn't make the team, volunteered to help at the wheelchair fencing venue, often working 11-hour days to make sure athletes had enough water and all the equipment they needed.

Golden girl

Everyone was expecting Lee Pearson to deliver another golden triple, but in the end it was Sophie Christiansen who took the first hat-trick for Britain's equestrians at London 2012. Her first win was with a score of 82.750 per cent in the individual 1a event, followed by a similar score with the team. By the time the 24-year-old was taking her third gold, at the grade 1a Freestyle test at Greenwich Park, the whole crowd joined her ecstatic celebration.

Chain reaction

Two mechanical failures ruined the chances of British cycling duo Anthony Kappes and pilot Craig MacLean in the 1km time trial by preventing them from finishing their laps. But the pair were able to put the troubles they suffered with their bike's chain behind them by taking gold in the in the sprint.

Top guns

The Mobot is sooo last month. When British sprinter Richard Whitehead won the T42 200m, breaking his own world record, he got out the big guns. As he crossed the finishing line, the double above-the-knee amputee flexed his muscles for the Olympic Stadium crowd: someone's been eating up all his spinach.