Paralympics 2012: The day the Games came of age

Ben Quilter

2012 Paralympics

Date:
Wednesday, 29 August to Sunday 9 September
Coverage:
Extensive daily coverage across 5 live, 5 live sports extra and the BBC Sport website

By definition the Paralympics are the parallel games to the Olympics, but historically it certainly has not been its equal.

The Games, which began in 1948, have grown in stature immensely but still does not receive anywhere near the same investment or media coverage, while the crowds have, in the past, not had the same appetite as for the Olympics.

But on the first day of the 2012 Games there was a strong suggestion the gap might, at the very least, be narrowing.

Indications of an increase in popularity followed the recent announcement that 2.4m of the 2.5m tickets had been sold.

Had the public been charmed by the venues and atmosphere they had witnessed during the Olympics? Was it the ticket prices, which were starting at £5 for juniors? Or was there a lusting to watch Paralympic sport?

What happened inside the ExCeL on day one went a long way to answering the latter question.

There were four sports on show at the venue and each arena grew from more than half-full in the morning to almost completely full by the later sessions.

The sports - table tennis, judo, sitting volleyball and powerlifting - were variations on sports seen at the Olympics.

Table tennis kicked off the day's proceedings.

There were eight tables featuring competitors in wheelchairs, those with missing limbs and others with varying degrees of movement.

What they lacked in some departments they made up for with uncanny speed of hand. The variety of competitors on show arguably made the sport more compelling to watch than its Olympic counterpart.

Judo was under way in the adjacent arena. The Paralympic version of the sport features players who are blind or have visual impairments, otherwise it was the same sport as witnessed at the Olympics - featuring ippons, yukos, wazaris, and high on emotion with coaches loudly shouting their advice from the sidelines.

And the crowd was a typical London 2012 ExCeL crowd, making the structure shudder when British judo player Ben Quilter landed won bronze.

There was an equally feverish crowd for the sitting volleyball match between Great Britain and Russia, helped by the MC repeatedly explaining that the players could not lift any part of their body from the "buttocks to the shoulder" during play.

It seemed though, that the large sections of Union Flag devotees were rather more interested in seeing their boys get one over the Russians. But in keeping with recent Great Britain volleyball results, the team lost.

"Not many people know much about volleyball, let alone sitting volleyball," captain Rob Richardson told BBC Sport, whose uncles, Peter and Dick, played cricket for England.

"The most I've played in front of has been 1,000. It was a big change today."

It bodes well for future Paralympics, with people wowed by the sport on show as well as the occasion.

But the Games should continue to embrace its distinctiveness.

Following the medal ceremony for the men's 48kg powerlifting, wheelchair user and gold medallist Yakubu Adesokan of Nigeria posed for pictures along with silver medallist Vladimir Balynetc, who has a form of dwarfism, and bronze winner Taher Abdelamajid, on crutches.

A picture perfect start to what promises to be a memorable Paralympics.