By Esme Fox
As soon as it was possible to buy tickets to the Paralympics, months before all the Olympic games finally kicked off, I was on the website trying to book them. I hadn’t been able to get tickets to the Olympics like many others in the city, and was very much looking forward to taking part in the atmosphere of the Games. I managed to get tickets for both the Paralympic equestrian and wheel chair basketball events and was about to find out exactly how different these two Paralympic sports could be.
First up was Paralympic equestrian, set in the manicured lawns of Greenwich Park with spectacular views over the high rise buildings of the city beyond. I couldn’t have imagined a better venue for the event. The day was sunny, the volunteers overly happy and Union Jack flags fluttered in the breeze. I was here to see the Paralympic team dressage events, where points are scored for a variety of movements including walk, trot, canter, and walking backwards.
It was interesting to hear the back story of each rider, announced over the tannoy as each rode out and I was especially inspired by those who were disabled because of riding accidents and were now back riding and competing again.
There were strict rules as to when riders could and could not be cheered. No cheering was allowed as the rider came into the stadium, only when they had finished their routine, or been reunited with their handlers. A few riders even requested not to be applauded at all and it was very hard to for the audience to contain themselves – flags at the ready and short burst of applause before forgetting and instead waving (very enthusiastically) at the competitor. However, when 22 year old Paralympic Team GB rider, Sophie Wells had completed her routine the crowd burst into ruptured applause and Union Jack flags went wild.
This was in complete contrast to this was the Paralympic wheelchair basketball event I attended a few days later. This time inside the O2 Arena, where cheering, chanting, screaming and dancing were rife throughout the entire event.
The game was swift, fast paced and full of ooos, aaahs, gasps and applauses as the men clashed into each other, fell out of their chairs and made baskets from the three point line. The first game was Canada vs. Spain and large sections of the crowd were decked out in red maple leaves, while the others in red and yellow. Constant chants were echoing through the stadium and baskets were frequent, allowing for erupting cheers every few minutes.
The atmosphere was just like an American basketball game you see in the movies – spectators eating hot dogs and drinking large cans of coke, while cheering emphatically. They even had a ‘kiss cam’ where members of the audience were encouraged to kiss each other when their faces appeared on the big screen. ‘Time Outs’ and half times were also a chance for members of the audience to join in small games organised on the court such as ‘musical baskets’ and a dance off. ‘Bongo cam’ (where the crowd had to play a set of imaginary bongos when their face appeared on the big screen), happy birthday songs, and slow motion Mexican waves were also frequent events throughout the game.
Canada (who never seemed to miss a single basket) won in the end and the soon the stadium was buzzing ready for the next game of the evening – Australia vs. Poland and the whole thing ensued again. In the end Australia won, even though there was much cheering for Poland from the crowd, but everyone still left on a high. Volunteers and audience members high-fived on the way out while games officials made up little songs to show us the way to the tubes and buses. It didn’t seem to matter where everyone was from anymore, everyone was ecstatic, winners and losers. At that point I knew that there would be a big hole left to fill when the world’s biggest sporting events finally left the capital and everyone who had been dreading the Games (including me) had made a complete turnaround.