James Lawton: If you think this is another Olympics, you are missing the point

The Paralympic action is guaranteed to illuminate our care-worn lives

As the great overture to the Paralympic Games plays out in the Olympic Stadium which will always be remembered so fondly as the place that created, however briefly, a Camelot of sport, there is an insistent, relentless message.

It says that what follows over the next 11 days has to be seen in the same light, and with the same fervour, as the 30th Olympics which for so many compelling reasons are already being seen as arguably the most heart-warming of all time.

This is a huge burden for even the bravest and most resolute of the sportsmen and women who today prepare for the action which in so many ways is guaranteed to illuminate so many of our perhaps too easily care-worn lives, and the instinct here is to lighten it a little.

There is no easy way to do this, not least because of the risk of even one patronising breath on a roll call of competitors which would be entitled to react to such clumsiness with the contempt that has always been the hard-earned and untouchable property of those who have shown the courage to confront and reject the most discouraging possibilities. Indeed there is no trick in this ambition to divest a glorious statement of character and human endeavour of some of its unprecedented hype.

There is just a simple, humble need, to say that in seeking some kind of reprise of the Olympics, some easy reproduction of the flag-waving, medal-hoarding euphoria which swept the nation, we may well, and even with the very best of intentions, be missing the utterly unique and life-enhancing point of the Paralympics.

If many of the marketing techniques and patriotic exhortations are similar and in some cases inseparable, it surely needs to be said that opening today is not another, if necessarily restricted, version of the Olympics, but something which has at its heart a quality that a dozen Usain Bolts, operating in the most flamboyant reaches of their nature and their talent, would be hard pushed to match. These are not the Olympics MkII, they are the Paralympics of a new age of understanding of human possibilities and if some of the rush for tickets is partly to do with the spirit created by the first event, there is no question that other factors are at work.

The most irresistible is that Paralympic sport is not only a proven spectacle of superbly pitched competition, one which on the big stage of Beijing four years ago gave countless examples of heroes and heroines to be admired not just for their determination but also brilliantly achieved accomplishment. It is the point made with some considerable force by the American world champion sprinter Jerome Singleton, who next week challenges the South African mould-breaker and Olympian Oscar Pistorius in the 100 metres also targeted by Britain's Jonnie Peacock. "Recognise the ability, not the disability," Singleton commands, and that is no hardship, no more than it was to be moved by the joy of the victorious and instantly beloved Ellie Simmonds in Beijing four years ago.

Such humanity, and desire to succeed, will no doubt suffuse more esoteric disciplines like the Italian version of bowls, Boccia, and the demands on skill of Sitting Volleyball and the blunt aggression of wheelchair rugby, which so happily defines itself as Murderball.

It is also true that it will be impossible to ride the Javelin to the Olympic Park without the certainty of encountering someone who has brought not just the most formidable commitment and discipline but also an example of that passion without which any kind of life, set in any circumstances, can hardly seem worth the living. In this the appeal of the Paralympics is so fierce, so universal, that some of the loudest cries for a repeat of the support that buoyed so many members of the Great Britain team during the Olympics have tended, at least in these ears, to sound a faintly discordant note.

With impeccable motivation, no doubt, leaders of the British team have been calling for still more national fervour. Sir Philip Craven, a wheelchair basketball Paralympian and now president of the International Paralympic Committee, says: "In Beijing, China topped the medal table; for Britain to be highly successful here is very important. It's got to be good news, for people coming to watch their heroes compete."

Britain's chef de mission Craig Hunter is even more bullish, declaring: "We have got our biggest ever team. All of them are absolutely capable of winning medals, the traditional sports of cycling, rowing, swimming, athletics – they are going to be bags full of medals. We are going to be looking for more medals across more sports. They are out there to prove some points about how wonderful Paralympic sport really is."

Yet who needs converting? The wonder of the Paralympics is that they are about sport in the truest and deepest way. They are about the highest possible achievement. They are a profound statement about the value of competition, of drawing from yourself the very best you have and, yes, if a gold medal in the 100 metres dash happens to be the reward, and like Peacock you happen to be wearing a British vest, it is certainly no matter for complaint. But then if you have performed to your capacity, so too is a gruelling though medal-less episode of Murderball.

One of the great beauties of the Olympics was the response of the crowd to high achievement in every venue, whatever the identity of the winner. If Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis were bathed in acclaim it was at no cost to the glory of a Bolt or the unforgettable 800 metres world record breaker from Kenya, David Rudisha.

At the Paralympics these next 11 days there is every reason to believe in a similar and perhaps even greater reaction.

They are the Games, after all, which parade not so much the colours of the nations but hearts beneath them which would ideally unite us all.

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
i100

Other places that have held independence referendums
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
news

Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'
film

Actors star in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur
film

It scooped up an unprecedented 11 Academy Awards when it was first remade in 1959

News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

Arts and Entertainment
Maxine Peake plays Hamlet at Manchester's Royal Exchange
theatreReview: Maxine Peake brings emotional ferocity to Shakespeare's starring part
Travel
travel

...and the perfect time to visit them

Sport
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)
football

Newcastle winger reveals he has testicular cancer - and is losing his trademark long hair as a result

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

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

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week