Sunday, December 30, 2012

British Paralympian Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson believes 2012 was the year Paralympics 'came of age'

There were two deeply personal moments. The first came in the opening ceremony, when I was swept across to the middle of the stadium on a zip wire, confronting my fear of heights, only to be told by my daughter that the moment was “quite good”. Another family member told me the “girl in the tennis chair was better”. Thanks.
Still, it did mean that I could sit next to the track less than two metres from the British team when they proudly walked out for the athletes’ parade. The reaction they got from the crowd was everything I could ever have hoped for from 2012.
The second is David Weir’s gold medal in the marathon. I’m probably going to have to keep apologising to David for saying live on radio that he looked bored with one lap to go – relaxed would have been a better word. Either way I knew when he raised his arms to stretch and he took a deep breath that he looked so in control that he was biding his time before he attacked for home to win his fourth gold medal.
It is hard to pick just a few favourite moments. The atmosphere on Thriller Thursday when Jonnie Peacock silenced 82,000 people by merely holding his finger to his lips amazed even the most hard bitten supporters. One commentator said he had never heard that support for anyone, not even Usain Bolt. The 100m then turned into one of the best races of the Games, not just the most hyped.
Leaving the Olympic Park every night, so many people came up and wanted to share the joy they had experienced. There were the families who said they were worried about taking their children to goalball because they feared that they couldn’t keep quiet for that long, and they voiced their surprise when they did. And there were disabled children saying they now had a real choice of people they wanted to emulate.
The overriding feeling in and around the Games was that the Paralympic movement had developed – and is continuing to develop. Sometimes the signs were quite subtle: Seb Coe talking about the Paralympics, while the Olympics were still on, for example. Being able to say the Olympic and Paralympic Games instead of having to divide them by having two Games in the same sentence was another. And then, less subtle but genuinely groundbreaking, the sight of three Paralympians making the 12-strong shortlist for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award.

Most dramatic of all, though, were the recent UK Sport announcements of the specific funding packages. Paralympic sport came out of the deal generally quite well with only archery and powerlifting receiving less than before. The challenge is both one of motivating talent without a home Games, and finding a place for those who have been inspired by London. The harsh world of Lottery-funded sport is about the medals table and the potential to get on it.

As a result, men’s goalball is no longer going to be funded, only the women’s game. The argument of the men having to build up a national game is valid, but there are not thousands – even hundreds – of blind men knocking on the door to get into sport. Development is neither an art nor a science – there is a lot of luck, and you need numbers participating. I have never been a fan of targeting weak medals as opposed to development, as you have so much to lose if someone with a little more talent comes along.

There was a fear for a while that, post-2012, there could have been a funding cut, but many people have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to protect it. In hindsight, no Government based on the success of this year would probably have dared to cut the funding. Post-Rio is the challenge and nobody wants Great Britain to be where Australia were at these Olympics. The real challenge is not for Britain but rather for the International Paralympic Committee. They need to build on the success of this year, crack the media in the USA, and attract more sponsors.

Paralympic sport in the UK will never be the same again: we just need to keep spreading the enlightenment.