Tonight’s the night. The Paralympic Opening Ceremony. I’m guessing that over the next two weeks we’ll become as familiar with some of the athletes as we were with the Olympics, or the Warm Up Act as they are being called now. Channel 4 has done a great job of getting us up to speed with some of the sports we never knew about, and I loved Jon Snow’s description last week in The Guardian of his experiences when he tried blind cycling:
As a cyclist, though, I have to confess that blind cycling is the sport that finally scared the Lycra pants off me. A few months back I made my way to the Manchester velodrome to experience the sport. The track was swarming with Olympic and Paralympic cyclists alike. It was here that I encountered some of the British military amputees from the Iraq and Afghan wars. Some had lost a leg and sported incredibly engineered prosthetics that were cleated into the pedal. Others had lost an arm and were aided by brilliantly conceived handle bar grips attached to their artificial arm.
Blind cycling places you on the back of tandem with sighted rider at the front. I had never been on a tandem, never cycled completely blindfolded, and never ridden a fixed wheel bicycle on which there are neither gears nor brakes. Oh, and I had never cycled in a velodrome. Unsighted, the swoops up and down the sides of the track – the dives and spurts as you go faster and faster – were completely disorienting. I never knew where I was as I buried my head in the back of the rider in front. As we topped 43mph I feared my ageing legs just would not be able to keep up. I screamed to be allowed to stop. But the exhilaration, the space, the wind, the crowd noise, and yes, once again the sheer sport, obliterated my initial obsession with the disability.
His programme about the Paralympics has been a nightly celebration, and his enthusiasm has spilled out of the screen. Some of you will not know who Jon Snow is. A tall, intelligent journalist, he fronts Channel 4 news. You see him flying around central London on his bicycle, but it is his brightly coloured tie that generally gets your attention. He’s usually associated with sharp and persistent questioning of politicians and others whose motives and behaviours might not be as pure and lofty as they would like us to think. Whoever suggested he should host a nightly programme in the lead up to the Paralympic Games, called simply Jon Snow’s Paralympic Show, has my thanks. And then there’s his blog entries. His post today not only underlines what a great writer he is, it has catalogued his journey from Olympic cynic to Paralympian evangelist.
Read his blog here. It’s joyous. As he wrote at the end of his Guardian piece, “The Olympics may have thrilled us to the core; the Paralympics will take us somewhere else – one of the most exciting places I have ever been.”
I’m off to follow him on Twitter.