These real diamonds can shine brightly on any stage
23:45 GMT, 7 September 2012
If you watched the Paralympics without your jaw dropping open in wonderment, or an awestruck tear collecting in the corner of an eye, then I suggest you may have had your soul amputated.
What a triumph the 2012 Paralympic Games have been; what a momentous event for the country. Britain can feel thoroughly proud of itself for staging yet another unforgettable spectacle.
But, from this point on, everything changes. It has to.
Oscar Pistorius broke down barriers as the first amputee to compete at the Olympics alongside able-bodied competitors. Now the sport has the chance to go a giant carbon-fibre stride further.
Star quality: Hannah Cockroft celebrates winning her 200 metres race on a thrilling Thursday night of Paralympic action
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If I were a Diamond League promoter writing out cheques for the likes of Usain Bolt to stroll to 200m victories at meetings across Europe, I’d be considering a punt on staging more Paralympic races as part of the programme. They do happen on occasion at the moment, more as a novelty than a permanent fixture. But just look at the value athletes like Hannah Cockroft, David Weir and Jonnie Peacock would bring to any stadium.
Their historic treble success on Thursday night wasn’t so much an echo of London 2012’s ‘Super Saturday’ as a full-volume reprise of that truly golden evening.
Don't tell me a crowd wouldn't want to
watch Weir in any stadium. He had 80,000 people screaming him home on
Thursday night in an 800m wheelchair event that had all the tactical
twists of a two-lap foot race, plus a Formula One-style crash on the
second corner and some brutal Ben Hur wheel-to-wheel brinkmanship. It
was epic stuff.
While Bolt and Yohan Blake avoid one another in Diamond League sprints so they can both collect a winner’s bounty, I’d be just as happy to pay to see Peacock, the fastest Paralympian in history, take on all comers in a time that is just a few tenths of a second off his more celebrated contemporaries, despite the inconvenient absence of one leg.
Certainly, the tension before the T44
100m final between Peacock, Pistorius and Co was reminiscent of the
night Bolt faced Blake on the same track. With a nailbiting false start
and Peacock bringing the crowd to a complete hush beforehand, it was
laden with drama. The six million who tuned in to watchChannel 4 agree. Promoters take note. The changes are already beginning to happen and the boundaries continue to blur.
The Rugby World Cup 2015 organisers this week recruited Debbie Jevans, the London Olympics director of sport, and talks are already underway to try to incorporate Paralympic rugby, or ‘Murderball’ as it is commonly known, into the programme.
This is not a sop to political correctness or some box-ticking exercise in political correctness. The public is demanding it.
Unforgettable: ParalympicsGB served up a memorable night of action – including Peacock's 100m victory
Unforgettable: ParalympicsGB served up a memorable night of action – including Peacock's 100m victory
I admit I found some of the talk before the Paralympics infuriating. There were accusations it was just a distant relation of the elite event, a shadow circus living on the reflected glory of the main Games.
We were told there were no genuine stars beyond Pistorius. Some wondered out loud whether it would be a glorified charity event or an expensive school sports day.
There were sneers people were turning up only because they missed out on the ‘real’ ticket ballot, and that the medals would be devalued because of the lack of competition in certain events.
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But the Paralympics actually showed us an astonishing array of fierce competitors being the best they could be in their class. Every sport always has divisions and groupings, either by sex, age, weight, engine size or equipment. You name it and there is a classification of some sort in play.
The fact that the Paralympics have to take into account myriad differences of physical and mental capability does not diminish the fact that the competitors are still number one at what they do.
Yes, some of the labels are confusing and the system could be simpler but, in time, the T44 amputees’ category might be as familiar a phrase as the Under 21s or light-middleweights.
As for the supposed lack of ‘stars’ on show, Ellie Simmonds, Sarah Storey, Cockroft, Weir and Peacock are right up there in the firmament of stellar sporting names in this country.
I’d certainly recognise them ahead of some of our rowers, cyclists and track and field medal winners from the ‘main Games’ — not because they are special cases to be patronised and indulged, but because they are outstanding athletes finally receiving some overdue profile. If you’ve seen any of the blind long jump or the wheelchair rugby, you won’t have any doubts about the courage and competitiveness on view.
Flying the flag: The Paralympians have provided as much entertainment as their Olympic counterparts
If you’ve seen the unique skills of the quad wheelchair tennis players serving with their feet, or the swimmers that race with no arms, there can be no doubting the prowess or the athleticism required.
I’ve tried blind football with the GB Team and banged the drum for them ever since. These boys are part Lionel Messi, part human sonar navigation system.
Plenty more to talk about…
Tune into my Press Pass show on talkSPORT on Sunday at 6pm where we will dissect the coverage of England’s World Cup qualifier and the Paralympics.
I’ll also be at the Team GB parade as a guest of Hawksbee and Jacobs live from Trafalgar Square on Monday afternoon.
I've also trained with the British
wheelchair basketball team in Spain. Beforehand, I asked the players not
to be condescending and 'take it easy' on me. I reminded them of how
infuriating they find it when strangers flash a sympathetic look their
way because they sit in a wheelchair and pointed out I didn't want the
same in reverse.
They duly responded. Throughout a metal-and-bone-crunching afternoon they beat seven types of excrement out of me, forever earning my respect in the process.
So be in no doubt this is a level of sport deserving of a stage. It is just as full of the blood of competition, burning ambition, dedication and dexterity as the main 2012 Games and it is pathetic to suggest otherwise.
There were even concerns voiced that this Paralympics was somehow a waste of money. Britain’s 328 Paralympians were given nearly 50m over four years from Lottery cash and Government funding. It sounds a lot, but to put it into a different context, that’s about the same as Wayne Rooney will earn in four years. For that, London has put on an event that could change attitudes and behaviour forever.
Rough and tumble: There's no love lost on the basketball court
Tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of
thousands of youngsters will grow up with an indelible memory of the
night they witnessed sportsmen and women either in wheelchairs, or
blind, or with one arm, or no legs doing truly extraordinary things in
the pursuit of Olympic glory.
Hopefully, they will grow up learning to look beyond the wheelchair or the white stick. Hopefully, they will see the person not the disability. Hopefully, they will remember when they started to question the accuracy of the word ‘disabled’.
That would be a fine way to mark London's 2012 Paralympics and ensure Britain's greatest-ever sporting summer lives on forever.
Gerrard just cannot win…
It is the ultimate loaded question for England managers and captains. At some point, each and every one of them is led towards the trap.
There’s nothing complicated about the query. On a quiet news day someone collects the microphone at a press conference and asks: ‘Can England win the World Cup’
As loaded questions go, it’s right up there alongside: ‘Have you stopped beating your wife’
Every answer, be it ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is a headline. Any doubt or hesitation causes controversy.
No win situation: Gerrard was asked if England can win the World Cup in Brazil
Since Steven Gerrard is the player with the armband these days the football grenade was duly tossed in his direction when Roy Hodgson’s side were preparing for last night’s qualifier in Moldova.
His dilemma was this. If Gerrard said England had ‘no chance’ of winning the World Cup, he would be pilloried for being defeatist and failing to motivate the squad.
If he said ‘England can — or even will — win the World Cup’, he would be accused of parading the arrogance that has long been the nation’s downfall.
So Gerrard opted for the more measured approach. He trod a fine line between realism and hope and said: ‘We have to have faith — miracles do happen.’
And the reaction He was pilloried for being both defeatist and arrogant.
Greed and loathing
Cristiano Ronaldo is 'unhappy' with his life at Real Madrid. It seems adulation, 250,000 a week, a team built around him and a sumptuous lifestyle are apparently not enough.
Ashley Cole is unhappy too. He is in contract negotiations with Chelsea and the question appears to be whether he will be paid 5million for one year or 10m for two.
Lewis Hamilton is holding out for more cash at McLaren as his 75m five-year contract comes to an end this year.
On and on it goes. Do these people have any idea how preposterous they sound in the current economic climate Does anyone believe they have an inkling of how they are perceived by the public
Hand to mouth: Ronaldo is trying to get by on 250,000-a-week
So the story goes
The story doing the rounds is Manchester United’s purported 38m bid for Brazilian superstar Neymar is the esult of a misunderstanding.
Apparently, someone got hold of the wrong end of the stick when Sir Alex Ferguson declared there would be ‘nay more signing for United’.