Sunday night saw the close of what has universally been accepted as the greatest Paralympic Games of all time. With a record 2.7 million tickets being sold, and nearly all events being sold out it was an unrivalled success to the greatest summer of British Sport in living memory, if not ever. Having been set a tough act to follow coming after the Olympics, and competing with other sporting events such as the Premiership and the US open for the nation’s attention, it passed this test too, with flying colours.
It seems on all accounts the ‘gloomsters’ have been proved wrong. Prior to the Games, cynics and pessimists (including this writer) had predicted a host of inevitable failings: the opening and closing ceremonies would be toe-curlingly embarrassing, the transport system would collapse, there would be thousands of empty seats etc. As it turned out the ceremonies had moments of awe-inspiring choreography, imaginative scenery and brilliant lighting. The storylines may have been lost along the way; however the fact that this didn’t matter is perhaps a testament to how effective and poignant the overall atmosphere created was.
This positive and friendly atmosphere that engulfed London, if not the rest of Britain was something I (a Londoner) have never experienced before, or think I will ever experience again. This energy that could be felt across the streets of the capital, not just at the Olympic Park, was a glimpse of what London could be like. This was most clearly demonstrated by the million plus people who lined the streets of the parade, to celebrate not just the medals won but the effort of all competitors and backroom staff. It was a fitting tribute to a magnificent summer which demonstrated sport at its most encapsulating, most engaging, best.
I have my doubts over the legacy of the London 2012 Games. With the de-construction of several of the buildings on the Olympic Park imminent, it is a reminder that the Games is a temporary event, at least for the host city. That is not to say that we haven’t been left with a massive catalogue of fond memories, too many to mention here. That is exactly what we have been left with, but is there anything else?
I agree that attitudes towards Paralympians will and have already improved. The degree to which these attitudes have changed can be measured by how many Paralympians are short-listed in BBC’s Sport Personality awards at the end of this year. Admittedly, this year’s contest will be the hardest to narrow down, never mind pick a winner. However it would be a travesty if David Weir, Sarah Storey, Ellie Simmonds and Jonnie Peacock weren’t among the candidates. Yorkshire’s own Hannah Cockroft also has a very good claim for a nomination with two Gold medals.
A more accurate test will be the Rio de Janeiro Paralympic Games in 2016, where any progress can be more obviously compared. London 2012 will be a tall order to emulate; Rio will have to make its Games their own, rather than copy London. They have a very good chance of doing just that, 4 years on we could be hailing Rio 2016 as the best Games ever.
Realistically, Team GB have reached the pinnacle of what we can be achieved. With no home advantage to rely upon in future events and sport funding being cut we need to realise that 48 Olympic Medals and 120 Paralympic Medals is going to be the best medal haul ever. Unfortunately, the only way is down from here. We should, and quite rightly have been, making the most of our success while it lasts.