Heroes On Parade

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Today is a typical October day in the UK - it’s wet, it’s dark and it’s cold. Yesterday’s weather bucked the October trend with a sense of timing that any of the Olympic and Paralympic athletes parading through London would have died for - the sun was out, the temperature crept up and the wind stayed away.

Around three-quarters of a million people turned up to shout things about swinging chariots at the English rugby team when they paraded the World Cup through London last year; the police reckon about a third of that number turned up yesterday to cheer on the ‘Parade of Heroes’ – although, whether or not that number included the people hanging out of their office windows along the route isn’t clear.

I watched the whole thing from inside the ropes in Trafalgar Square, courtesy of Timo and his magic yellow wristbands. I pretty much just stood there for a couple of hours with my mouth open in glee and awe as Olympian after Paralympian was herded out onto the stage to exchange a bit of lively banter with Steve Rider and Sue Barker*, and then to sit down to one side and sign endlessly thrust autograph books and t-shirts. It was a privilege to be there so close to the action.

A greater privilege was to come though when the live broadcast had finished and we met up with Sascha and Nyree backstage and headed to the local Sports Café for a bite to eat. It took us the guts of half an hour to get 500 yards. It’s amazing how a few medals hanging around your neck will make complete strangers approach and ask you questions. It is also amazing just how patient two tired, hungry Paralympians can be with their public.

“Can I touch your medals?” - of course

“Will you sign this for me?” - of course

“Any chance of a photo?” of course

Nothing was too much trouble, nothing too intrusive. Every request was granted, and granted with a smile and with thanks for coming to the parade and for watching the Paralympics on TV.

And so, while Pinsent, Law, Holmes and Co. (and possibly Coe) headed to the Palace to meet Her Majesty, we hung out in the Sports Café with nothing to adorn our humble table but four golds, two silvers, a pair of bronzes and some nachos. The waitress’ eyes nearly popped out of her head. “Can I touch them? Will you sign this? Can I take a photo?” Of course, of course, of course.

There is something more in touch with the Olympic ideal about the Paralympians – perhaps a disability in one area makes you appreciate more your abilities in another – the spirit of fair play and the importance of taking part rather than winning seems uppermost. I liked the fact that the culmination of the parade took place in Trafalgar Square, with a large crowd swarming around an enormous monument erected to one of the world’s more famous amputees.

Outside the restaurant, Sascha had to phone Greater Manchester Radio to give them the interview they’d asked for. Traffic ripped up and down the street, and he was having trouble hearing what his interviewer was saying. Nyree provided a simple solution that had us all in stitches and produced the photo of the day. When we parted company at Charing Cross, they both thanked me for coming to the parade. The pleasure was entirely mine.

There’s a story on the BBC website today about how success in Athens for the British teams has inspired more than a quarter of the population to want to play more sport. In the end, I didn’t need to ask Sascha about how to get out of bed in the morning to go to training. I watched him swim in Athens and then yesterday I held his medals. As I said before, the weather today is wet and cold, but at 6:30 this morning, I wasn’t in bed having my usual argument with myself about lying in for ten more minutes, I was running round the park in the dark.

If you want to see more of the pictures from yesterday, some of the better ones are here.

*It was also interesting to note that Sue mumbles her lines to herself nervously as they count her down before they go live. Later, there was a strange sight (indicative of our society’s skewed value system) when I spotted one of the Olympic heroes getting an autograph from Steve Rider.


SwissToni said...

Bugger the photos of our Olympic heroes, I want to see pictures of *you* in training. Get your arse into gear, get that photo thing Blogger offers for free and stick some evidence that you are now in training onto this site.