It’s the morning after the closing ceremony of the most memorable sporting event for athletes with disabilities ever staged! Beijing 2008 always seemed unbeatable with the endless supply of cash thrown at ceremonies, venues and all the other razzmatazz associated with Olympic / Paralympic Games - surely a hard act to follow? As they did during the World Wars, and other momentous happenings in their sacred history, the British people rallied - they raised the bar in every sense and brought some measure of understanding to the old cliche that has become customary at the closing of games. Lord Sebastian Coe, Sir Philip Craven, take a bow - these were indeed "The Best Games Ever!"
The superlatives and poetic licence of the remarkable performances by remarkable athletes have already been penned by those far more qualified than I, recording and planting them indelibly in readers’ and admirers’ minds. Allow me to then to share the moment that captured my imagination and literally said it all.
Whilst loitering in the Olympic Park awaiting the start of the highly anticipated T44 200m Heats featuring Oscar Pistorius, I noticed two young men emerging from the Goal Ball arena. They were clearly South African with one, Leogo, proudly sporting his Kaiser Chiefs shirt. We got chatting and they were obviously taken with what they had witnessed at the Goal Ball. They explained how they had tried online for months to secure tickets for their preferred events, and failed. The only tickets they could get were for Goal Ball, a sport they had never heard of! Despite their ignorance of Goal Ball, they were determined to be a part of the 2012 spectacle.
"Obviously, we would have given anything to see the great man run," commented Leogo as they were preparing to say their goodbyes, "That was not to be, but at least we were here!" By chance, one of the Team SA sponsors had handed me two tickets for the evening session, and what a privilege it was for me to enable these two enthusiasts to go and witness the great man run! They were in a state of shock when I produced the tickets. Tears of joy flowed as they made their way to the stadium, more tears when Oscar broke the world record - now, in their minds, without taking any credit away from Goal Ball, they had been a part of the Paralympic Games! They had seen something that changed their lives! Good old South African "Ubuntu" had once again intervened - friends for life!
Despite predictions (including mine) Team SA were not able to emulate the amazing achievements of four years ago, but they can hold their heads high - knowing that, medal for man, the 29 medals still keep them amongst the cream of the top performers at Paralympic Games.
There is much work to be done though, standards have rocketed and some of our warhorses and treasures have taken their final curtain calls: our swimming Queen has vacated her throne! Natalie du Toit, your contribution has given you legendary status.
Accolades must go to SASCOC who are forever in the spotlight, and at times for all the wrong reasons. I am sure the sponsors of Team SA: Mercedes-Benz, Nedbank, Pick n Pay, SAA, Sasol, Sun International, Telkom, Vodacom and Erke, together with the Lotteries Distribution Board and S&R SA, have seen value and will renew their vows. As we heard so often in David Bowie’s words at the stadiums, you allowed them to be Heroes! Thank you all.
London 2012 has been and gone, the great thing about these games is that there is always the next one to look forward to and, if the precursor at the closing ceremony as presented by the organising committee of Rio is anything to go by, partying will be a sport included on the already extensive program!