This past weekend I went to the World Para Athletics Championships at the Olympic Stadium, my first time inside the stadium (I missed most of London 2012 Olympics as I was living in South Korea), and the first sporting event I’ve attended in the UK.
Even though I was barely in the country during 2012 just being at the Olympic park brought back the all the feelings from that time. Watching the Olympics from a far, especially the opening ceremony, I had never felt more connected to the UK. I felt reminded of the warm feeling of togetherness and pride that surged across the nation, long before the days of Post-Truth reality, Brexit and Trump. Is it bad to feel nostalgic for just five years ago?
I have never really been a follower of sport, no single team or player I support. Yet whenever Team GB/ England is performing I’m supporting. It is a strange sense of pride and patriotism that takes over whenever you support your national team. Something that I have never fully understood for certain sports but in athletics oozes out of me in bucket loads.
The experience was exhilarating to see athletes of that skill and ability compete on a world stage, especially cheering on British athletes who continue to perform, win and create world records. But at the Para Athletics the patriotism that emerges when our athletes perform was in addition to the widespread support for every single athlete there was truly amazing to witness.
I’m no expert on Para Athletics but I can see the long way it has come from before London 2012, and the wealth of support that was generated by the Para Olympics being on home soil. Thankfully that support has continued to grow with the prominence Para Athletics has gained with coverage on Channel 4 and shows like The Last Leg, which is honestly how I came to attend the Championships.
Words like ‘inspirational’ get banded about at such events, and yes the athletes are inspiring. But inspiring for their high level of commitment, skill and talent that any athlete performing at this top level has. They are inspiring generations to look beyond disability and simply get into sport, which is certainly the case for this non-disabled person.
What really struck me was the sense of love and support for all the athletes there was immense, and surged whenever a GB athlete was announced. It was an electric atmosphere.
The beating patter of claps for Swedish athlete Tobias Jonsson trying to reach 7m during the Men's Long Jump T12, the roar of support the American Roderick Townsend-Roberts trying to break the world record in the Men's High Jump T47 (unfortunately only achieve the championship record this time), and the ecstatic roar as GB athlete Hollie Arnold won gold in the Women's Javelin Throw F46.
Then came Jonnie Peacock, one of the stars of London 2012 and Rio 2016. I could not imagine the weight of expectation he felt, whether consciously acknowledged or simply felt within his body. The atmosphere was electric as his 100m T44 race approached. The silence in the stadium was deafening, with only the soft cry of a baby breaking it, unable to handle the tension any longer. Then the explosion of the gun and athletes from the blocks, unleashing a cacophony of screams, cheers, hollering for your man. And before you know it it’s all over and adrenaline is replaced with relief and joy.
It is strange the sense of pride you can feel in watching someone else achieve their goals, a pure happiness for them in their achievement with a sense of awe at their physical and mental feats to get there. Would I go again? Absolutely. And I only hope the profile for Para sport continues to grow so everyone can know what super humans they all are.