We finally got our hands on some tickets so that we could explore the famed Olympic Park
By Katie Garner
After watching as much of the Olympic programme on the TV as I could possibly manage, I was dying to get hold of some tickets, any tickets, so that I could explore the tantalizingly near Olympic Park at Stratford as well as view some of the incredibly inspiring athletes on display. As luck would have it, a friend of a colleague had some spare tickets for the morning session of swimming heats for the Paralympics last Saturday, and I literally jumped at the chance, zapping emails nabbing them as fast as humanly possible.
And, as I walked under the luridly bright pink welcome signs, I was convinced that the morning wasn’t going to disappoint. The Aquatics Centre was usefully located really near the Stratford entrance, so even though we were a little late, we could still get to our relevant venue quickly. The sweeping, sinking ceiling creates a dramatic silhouette and entering the interior was just as exciting. We were lucky as our seats had such good views – despite the vaguely annoying French couple with impossibly wide bright blue cowboy hats.
I was completely overawed by the amazing athletes competing in this event. Amputees with no arms, powering through length after length of breaststroke, smashing the clock with their speed, heads bobbing up and down, using every ab muscle to stay afloat. Also, the bravery of the blind swimmers, loyally trusting their comrade tappers who use a long stick with a sponge on the end to tap the swimmers’ shoulder, so they know where the end of the pool is.
It was also fantastic getting to see small swimmer Ellie Simmonds absolutely annihilate the Paralympic Record in her heat, seeing her fly through into the final that was that same evening. There was so much British talent in the pool that morning and we loved spotting the red hats emerging from the changing rooms.
The atmosphere was brilliant. No matter what the nationality, us Brits love an underdog. If one swimmer was lagging behind, we went wild until they finished, ensuring that they received a massive and hearty congratulations for their efforts. And as soon as anyone even began to question a Paralympic or World Record, the eager anticipation had everyone on the edge of their seats, with the noise levels steadily increasing until you couldn’t hear yourself think – but to be honest you didn’t care. It was almost as if you were swimming every stroke with them, trying your best telepathy urging come on!
Walking around the park, you realise all the work behind the whole event. The stadiums are almost like artworks with their unique shapes and colouring, making each so individual and easy to identify. Everything is really well signposted so there is no chance of getting lost, especially with the efficient volunteers at every corner, only too willing to assist in any way possible. Entertainers are scattered around the park also, one group using drum sticks to beat out a tune on plastic bins and metal lamp posts to the base of a bongo drum! Amazing! It was a delight for the senses, sniffing the numerous food stands, listening to random live performers singing their hearts out, the background roar of applause from the stadiums. The venues a delicious array of architecture.
It was exhausting, thrilling, mesmerising and above all so inspiring. Whatever knockbacks, accidents or negativity these people have received in the past, they demonstrated the true meaning of determination, ability and pure positive thinking to create themselves into the superb athletes they are today. They make you feel like you should be able to do more, achieve more, because they can. They can and have, so what on earth is stopping you? What could possibly be holding you back when you see what goals these athletes can reach. It’s so amazing and an absolute privilege to host here in London – the most cosmopolitan and all-accepting capital in the world.