If you thought the Olympians were amazing, just wait for these Paralympic athletes

 

It is pointless to pretend not to be interested in the thousands of extraordinary roads that have lead this week to Stratford from all over the world. Or that the backstories of the individuals gathered in the stadium last night do not matter. Or that the Paralympic Games are only about elite sport and nothing else.

The founder of the Games, Dr Ludwig Guttman, never thought that. We don't approach phenomenal achievement in non-disabled sport, or anything in life, in such a fashion and we will always more greatly admire someone who has worked unimaginably hard to get where they are.

The Paralympics are most definitely not about courage or bravery, although that is not going to stop being moved by those virtues.

But then, one of the great attractions of sport, like nothing else, is that there is a time, and an often unbelievably brief one, after the gun fires or the whistle blows or the bell rings for round one, that all that just goes out the window. And in its place is nothing but the thrill of the contest.

We will be moved by the next week and a half in ways that probably cannot be predicted, but we will be gripped, too, by the drama, in the most straightforward fashion.

"Focus on the ability, not the disability," has long been the mantra of single-amputee sprinter Jerome Singleton. In Beijing four years ago, he was 25 metres ahead of the great Paralympian Oscar Pistorius, in the 100-metre final, with less than 50 metres to go. But the South African reeled him in and passed him on the line, as Singleton's face transformed into a vision of exertion and anguish; heartbroken and without breath.

This time round, the two men will also have to contend with Great Britain's 19-year-old sprinting sensation Jonnie Peacock, who ran sub-11 seconds earlier this year, breaking Pistorius's world record. When the gun fires next Thursday, there will be that same agony and ecstasy. Pistorius has simply said: "Bring it on." Where the Masai tribesman David Rudisha left his rivals trailing three weeks ago to obliterate the 800-metre world record, this weekend will bring Great Britain's phenomenal wheelchair racer David Weir, eyes fixed on the first corner, sweeping past the Olympic flame amid the same deafening roar.

Tattooed on his chest is a Japanese symbol meaning "to win". If his body defines him, it is that, not the spinal-cord transection he was born with.

In the Velodrome, where the spectre of Hoy, Pendleton, Kenny and Trott still linger, ParalympicsGB will be looking to carry on the dominance. For Sarah Storey, it is 20 years since she won her first Paralympic gold, aged 15, in the swimming pool in Barcelona.

In the basketball arena, welders with oxyacetalene torches will be on hand as the wheelchair rugby players seek to, in the words of Great Britain's Ross Morrison, "beat the living daylights out of each other".

They are desperate for a medal, having finished fourth in Beijing and Athens, but, like every other country, will have to contain Australia's Ryley Batt, the stand-out star of the sport. The International Paralympic Committee's head of communications, Craig Spence, knows him well. "My last job was for the Rugby League Super League," Mr Spence said. "But I have still never seen anyone hit anyone else as hard as he does." It may be fright, not admiration, that grips the crowds then.

But hardest of all, next Saturday, for the final time this summer, Oscar Pistorius will come bounding down the home straight in the 400-metre final, as he has done many times already, in the Olympic semi-final, and the 4 x 400m relay final, realising the dream of Dr Guttman, in front of his daughter and descendants, that a Para-athlete might race against his Olympic counterparts. And then, that will be it. The Olympic circus will move on.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Attwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'