On Wednesday I witnessed my ninth Paralympic opening ceremony
, and it was a good one as always. I read somewhere that it was the most visually stunning spectacle ever. I'm not sure I would put it in that category, but it was impressive.
The surprises were nice. Her majesty Queen Elizabeth II was in attendance, along with several members of the royal family and British Prime Minister David Cameron. That indicated the seriousness with which the United Kingdom is treating the Paralympic Games.
Another surprise was Ian Drury's song Spasticus Autisticus
, performed by members of the Graeae Theatre Company. It was originally banned by the BBC, but now is seen as part of the "Enlightenment" message that organizers were articulating. The lyric "cos I hobble when I wobble" really grabbed my attention and showed a sense of staring disability in the face instead of shying away from it.
Jerry Tonello, the head coach of the Canadian men's wheelchair basketball team, had a quote after the opening ceremony that echoes the way a lot of athletes and coaches view the pageantry. "It's always great to feel the energy of the crowd," he said. "I find it inspiring, motivating and it gets us in the right frame of mind for our first game tomorrow [against Japan]."
Tomorrow is now today, and Tonello's team was apparently in the right mind frame as they beat Japan 68-53 on Thursday to begin the tournament. Wheelchair basketball legend Patrick Anderson marched with his nation the night before and then in his team's first game he showed no signs of fatigue by scoring 32 points and adding 13 rebounds.
I bumped into Anderson at the train station just a few hours before the opening ceremony and I was amazed at his level of relaxation. He has been in this type of situation so many times before and he will just take each moment as it comes.
But not everyone is so relaxed. I'm always a little surprised by the fact that some athletes stay home from the ceremony because it conflicts with their preparation and can be quite physically demanding. For instance, Britain's 19-year-old amputee sprinting hope Jonnie Peacock chose to watch the proceedings on television while his main competitor Oscar Pistorius of South Africa was carrying the flag for his nation.
Some of us old Paralympic veterans are a little skeptical when we keep hearing that these will be the greatest Games ever. I have an open mind, but show me.
In my opinion, the standard is Sydney 2000. The Australian people embraced Paralympic sport and athletes like never before. The Australian delegation delivered one breathtaking performance after another in the pool, on the track and just about every other venue. The host nation won 61 gold medals, 18 more than the next highest country.
The Great Britain team has spent huge sums of money on its team and seems poised to deliver that same type of medal success this time. Now the question is whether the British public will embrace the Games the same way their fellow Commonwealthers did a dozen years ago.
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