The Paralympics aren’t quite over yet, but my live presence is, so it’s farewell to the greatest sports fest I’ve ever seen. Last night in the stadium I watched phenomenal performances surrounded by roaring Union Jack-brandishing Brits – despite the fact that few athletes from our isle were actually competing in that session. It easily equalled the stirring session I saw a few weeks ago when the lightning Bolt (Usain that is) streaked past in the 200m final. Stuff of memories indeed.
I’m already feeling nostalgic having been to Stratford four times in the last month (including twice for the Globalfeast described in a previous post). The brilliant makeover of Hackney Marshes has got under my skin, as has the incredibly jovial and inclusive nature of the hordes. Anything went, from proselytizing ‘save the lord/ love Jesus’ types outside the station to smiley happy-clappy volunteers at every turn: “Enjoy the evening!” “Thanks for coming!” – they didn’t stop, before breaking into song or spontaneous Olympic rap. Sometimes it was just TOO much in fact. And the Union Jack… was ubiquitous, flourishing as never before.
During the Olympics at least, it was balanced out by flags and national colours from all over the world, but the Paralympic crowd had a far greater British edge.
The architecture was spectacular and even Anish Kapoor’s Orbit tower looked good once night lighting took over (but it’s easily one of the ugliest ‘sculptures’ I’ve ever seen in daylight). The gardens bloomed beautifully, the lawns glowed green and even the the water and reeds of the marshes had been integrated.
But of course the real knock-out was the athletes themselves, whether Olympians or Paralympians, again and again. I won’t rapture on, just add some grainy snaps of Usain Bolt warming up and of the bladerunner king, Oscar Pistorius, with a long face after he only came second last night. Sour grapes? Minutes earlier the stadium erupted as the Welshman Aled Davies was awarded a gold for discus throwing by the Duchess of Cambridge, the nation’s heardthrob. Hey – more Union Jacks!
All evening we were up and down from our seats for the many national anthems, more often than not Chinese, whereas during the Olympics it was the American anthem that dragged us up THREE times in a couple of hours. Whatever the nationalities of the athletes and winners, general applause and enthusiasm dominated throughout. I got pretty good at picking medal-winners – Brazilian (they did unbelievably well last night), Mexican, Cuban, Tunisian, Spanish. It felt a bit like a day at the races – without the bets.
2012 has been a pretty momentous year for the UK between the Queen’s Jubilee (see post passim) and the Olympics, although let’s not talk about the economy. Patriotism is not something I usually warm to, but I did warm to the sight of thousands of couples, families and bunches of friends having a great night out and sharing in something that has such global reach. And the object of this enjoyment being, not arts, food or booze, but a show by incredibly inspired and inspiring members of the human race.