James Lawton: Summer of bravery and moving feats at London 2012 revives all our noblest dreams
Zanardi spoke of the sadness which comes when the striving is over
There may be a nip of autumn in the air this morning but can that part of the nation which still glories in such qualities as courage and discipline and an ability to lift up the shoulders beneath a weight that many not so long ago might have seen as insuperable ever have headed towards winter with a bolder heart?
Can steps ever have been made lighter by so many brilliant examples of what can be achieved if you are strong and brave enough? Have we ever seen, in the games we play and, in the case of the Paralympics, invent on the run, so many blazing, unforgettable insights into the art of the possible?
It could be that Andy Murray will in New York later today add to his Olympic gold medal an inaugural Grand Slam title. But then failing still another extension to the summer of British sport that has marched so spectacularly beyond precedent, not only in terms of achievement but the creation of an extraordinary communal spirit, we can still say that the feeling of uplift surely swept past the finish line of the Paralympic marathon yesterday in the care of the man who was been so widely christened the Weirwolf.
It was probably less of a surprise than it should have been when David Weir, aged 33, came home for his fourth gold medal of the Games, holding off the challenge of Switzerland's Marcel Hug and Australia's Kurt Fearnley and showing resolution still utterly remarkable even when you remembered quite how much of it has invaded our senses since the Olympic flame was lit in the final days of the month before last.
There were times, the Weirwolf confided, when he felt he was dying on the streets of London. In fact he was supplying the very heart tissue of an experience that may prove, who knows, to have changed the way sport is seen and felt not just within these currently pride-filled and, let's be honest, often hype-ridden borders.
Weir wore British colours, as did Jonnie Peacock and Sarah Storey and Ellie Simmonds, but in his triumph yesterday he was, just like Italy's Alex Zanardi and, for all the subjective controversy he brought, the blade-running Oscar Pistorius, surely the property of the world.
This has to be the greatest legacy of the Paralympics, which closed last night with the kind of vaulting fulfilment that greeted the end of the Olympics a month ago.
Huge and no doubt in many cases unrealistic claims have already been made for their potentially significant place in the routine schedules of mainstream sport but there is surely one judgement which is proofed against serious challenge.
It is that the fortitude and the accomplishment that has been on display these last 11 days have flown so far beyond the usual parameters of a sports field.
The impact of young men and women who have dealt superbly with handicaps beyond even the fleeting imagination of many of us has been so great that it has thrown a blinding light on much of the ignorance – and perhaps even the indifference – which so many of the disabled have faced all their lives.
Of all the drama and the bracing spectacle of the Paralympics, none of it has been so wide or deep as to exclude from memory the impassioned oratory of a woman in a wheelchair who said that she prayed that the enthusiasm of the moment will not be long forgotten before the year-in, year-out plight of the handicapped is met with anything like adequacy.
This, just as vitally as an enduring legacy for the Olympics which enraptured the nation, is where the lasting assessment of the Paralympics will be made.
The gold and silver and bronze medals have been lovingly recorded but will we be as fastidious in our listing of the new wheelchair ramps and other basic conveniences of those from whose numbers such resilience and nerve and talent have been produced?
It is a pretty thought that we will but if there was some joy in the voice of that young woman who wheeled her way from the Olympic Park there was also a degree of rage and it was one that will surely, not now, be easily assuaged by any amount of political sweet-talk.
The Paralympians have delivered in the most stunning way – and not just in terms of some quite startling performances.
If Weir gave a moving account of his triumph, the dogged spirit that carried him to his supreme competitive satisfaction along The Mall, it was no more memorable than the former motor-racer Zanardi's report on his state of mind after winning gold as a speed cyclist 11 years after losing his legs in a crash.
He said that when you set a new horizon for yourself you create the possibility of meeting happiness every day of your life. He also spoke of the sadness which comes when the striving has been done, when the goal has been achieved in the manner of your dreams.
The Italian said he simply had to invent a new dream. Weir said he would, when the terrible physical draining was over, when his body was replenished, be happy to inhabit, for at least another four years, the old dream.
What so many competitors have spoken of with great warmth is the intensity of the crowd's presence, its capacity to move them so far beyond normal levels of ambition. The extent of this phenomenon was announced on the first day of the Olympic track and field, when Jessica Ennis was carried to such levels of performance it was, she revealed later, almost as though she had been taken over by a higher force.
Quickly enough, it became routine in every Olympic and Paralympic venue and right to the end, when the Weirwolf fought off another pack of rivals, and Shelly Woods held on for silver, it remained quite relentless.
It was the summer wind that seemed most reluctant to stop.
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