The unseen scenes of the Paralympics

September 13, 2012

Although I’d spent a fortnight pinned to the television during the Olympics, I still hadn’t managed to watch much of the subsequent Paralympic Games come halfway through the event. This wasn’t out of choice – in fact I had every good intention to become just as hooked on this second sporting extravaganza of the summer – but simply that, for one reason or another, I had only caught bits and pieces.

In addition, although I’d been to the Olympic Park first time around, I wanted to try and actually get into the stadium – that impressive 80,000-seat auditorium which had been the backdrop to so many of the summer’s memories.

So, when I came across two tickets for the athletics, I took my chance and snapped them up. Everyone I knew who’d been to the stadium had mentioned the noise, the cheering and the sheer scale of the structure (I was in block 253, row 68 and seat 778) so I was prepared for all that. It was the more random details which caught my eye, however – the things that aren’t noticeable to an armchair-spectator.

One puzzle, for example, that I had never stopped to wonder about before was how javelins, discuses and shots were retrieved from the field. But one evening in the stadium, and all became clear. Small remote-controlled Mini Cooper cars ferried the objects from field to athlete across the stadium – a process I’d failed to notice on TV. Then there were the visually-impaired and blind runners. In the 100m sprint I saw, Brazil heroically won all three medals – yet something I hadn’t known was that each runner’s guide took home a medal, too.

Sitting in the stadium, your eyes tend to be mostly on the sport.  When I gazed up at the rooftop, though, I noticed small, white marquees around the 900m-long circumference. It wasn’t obvious what they were used for – perhaps for cameras or security? – but, whatever their role, they took on the appearance of a pop-up village around the arena’s rim. On leaving the Park, I glanced up at the roof of the Holiday Inn, and that turned out to be a base for snipers during both Games, providing security and protection for the Park.  Yet again, here was another of the Olympics and Paralympics’ unseen scenes; a sight that the cameras panned away from.

All these inconspicuous details made me think of an article I’d read in early August, when the Olympics were in full swing. In it were listed the unsung heroes of the Games – from the underwater cameraman at the water polo to the sweat mopper-uppers at the volleyball – and the sights that I saw when in situ struck me as being their equivalent. Not that a reminder was needed, but it just goes to show how there are some things which just don’t transfer to the screen – and that there’s nothing quite like seeing something with your own eyes.

(Helena Hamlyn)