The Paralympians arrive
By 5 live's Matt Cole:
International travel can be fraught with annoyances, not least that tricky moment when you realise your suitcase is identical to someone else’s when they both arrive on the luggage carousel. So spare a thought for the Russian Paralympic team, who not only dressed in matching tracksuits, covered in lurid red swirls, they also had identical kit bags. I passed the team in the luggage hall of Heathrow’s Terminal 3 as the gathered around dozens of their bags. My Russian’s non-existent, but you didn’t have to speak a word to realise more than one athlete was asking: “er… which ones mine?”
On the whole though London’s host airport for the Paralympics seems to be coping well, despite today helping some 500 wheelchair users though the terminals – that’s the kind of number who normally pass by in a month.
Athletes, their equipment, and their support teams all seem to arrive safe and sound, aided by an additional 200 staff.
A few short breaths were drawn when Canadian David Willsie, collected his competition wheel chair. “Hey,” he said, “I think someone’s dented this!”
Mercifully he was joking. At 44 he’s the oldest member of Canada’s wheelchair rugby team, and each and every dint and scratch is a battle scar from tournaments of which he’s rightly proud. It’s a brutal sport which takes no prisoners. Amongst the athletes luggage was a bag of spare wheels, which might be very much needed given the violent clashes and collisions the game throws up.
David broke his neck playing ice hockey, but says he just didn’t learn his lesson so took up another sport in which he takes a battering.
Canada has won medals in wheelchair rugby in Athens and Beijing, but never a gold. Patting his padded, taped up rugby chair, David said “It’s been though a couple of battles but it’s got one big one left in it so we’re going to give it everything we’ve got for this one.”
But in all, behind the scenes Heathrow seems to be coping. With 2100 Paralympic family members passing through on Wednesday alone, no major problems were reported. Now if only it can stay like that for the rest of us next time we head off on our holidays.
Matt Cole is a reporter for BBC Radio 5 live. You can hear his reports on preparations for the Paralympic Games throughout the week.