Guest post by Jonathan Eyers
There are only so many guest posts you can write for a sports blog before you have to finally confess you’re just not that into the whole thing. It’s not that I’m apathetic about sport. In fact, since Euro 96, when my disinterest was punished with dead arms, I have actively loathed everything to do with it. The nadir of Gareth Southgate’s career was the zenith of my interest in sport. I imagine I enjoyed that penalty as much as the Germans did.
I could start ranting about how sport brings out the imperialistic tendencies of otherwise sensible people, but it’s not just the desire to avoid sounding like a tuft-bearded lentil-eating nineteen-year-old economics student from West London that stays my typing hand. Because the truth is, I’ve been just as enthusiastic about the Olympics as anyone. And all the naysayers and doom merchants just made me more so (except when they castigated the logo; they were right about that).
The only big national events we tend to do in this country are royal weddings, royal funerals and royal jubilees. Celebrating anything else is just a bit too American for us. Perhaps that’s why the Olympic opening ceremony has ensured Danny Boyle will be Sir Danny by January. We could all get behind this barnstorming vision of Britain and pretend the show was just for the rest of the world’s benefit. Because, of course, the rest of the world understands the shipping forecast…
Yes, the spirit of national unity and bonhomie didn’t last long, with partisan oiks from the Daily Mail to the Guardian claiming the next day that the ceremony represented only their worldview, and that it must have infuriated their political enemies, and that this was a good thing. But for the rest of us, the ceremony set the tone for not just a national event but an international one, and one which transcended sport.
I applied for about £1,000 worth of tickets, which was apparently pretty typical (though perhaps not for someone with my professed level of interest in sport). All I got was the fencing (men’s sabre final), which I ultimately enjoyed, but it was at ExCeL, out in the Docklands. I was disappointed not to get anything at the Olympic Stadium. It somehow didn’t feel like I was going to the real Olympics when I got off at Stratford and then went in the opposite direction to the Stadium.
So when I heard in early August that there were still tens of thousands of tickets for the Paralympics left, I made a beeline to get online, and looked only for events at the Stadium. I was in luck. Not only were there still tickets for athletics left, but some of them were in the £10 category too. (I do work in publishing, after all.)
One of the benefits of not being particularly interested in sport before the Olympics is that I was immune to any ideas of sporting celebrity. Most of the sportsmen I could name I had only heard of for their extracurricular activities (with or without their wives and girlfriends). The only Olympians I was really aware of before the end of July were Usain Bolt and Tom Daley. Even when I was seeing famous British competitors, I had no idea who they were. It didn’t really matter to me.
As soon as I started expressing enthusiasm for having got tickets to Stadium events at the Paralympics I picked up on this sense from some people that the Paralympics weren’t the real Olympics, and not in the same way that events at ExCeL hadn’t felt like the real Olympics to me. I definitely got the impression there was more to it, that the Paralympics are considered inferior because most Paralympians (Oscar Pistorius notwithstanding) are less famous (and for reasons few would openly admit, I’m sure).
Of course that wasn’t an impression borne out by the reaction of the crowd in the packed Stadium when 80,000 of us watched Mickey Bushell win his heat in the 100m. Decibels reached unsafe levels, I’m sure. (I can only imagine the sound level when he won the gold medal in the following day’s final.) It certainly all felt real at that moment, and any distinction between Olympic and Paralympic less so.
I could end with a slightly sourpuss suggestion that Mo Farah, Ellie Simmonds or Bradley Wiggins would be better role models than our much-idolised footballers, but instead I’ll finish in the same way my Paralympic experience ended, with tens of thousands of people singing our national anthem following David Weir’s gold medal ceremony. Listen carefully and you might even hear the American next to me swept up by the nation’s mood and joining in.