As impressive a show as London put on with the Olympics for able-bodied athletes, the city outdid itself last week with a Paralympics that showered physically challenged competitors with world-class respect. Organizers worked so hard to make sure the Paralympics were not an afterthought that more than 2.7 million tickets were sold, selling out most events and raising $16 million more than expected.
In a sign of just how much the London games put the Paralympics on the map, sports commentators around the world were drawn into debates about physical classification levels, prosthesis controversies, doping, and, yes, television exposure. NBC came under fire for offering American viewers far less coverage than networks in many other nations.
The record 4,200 competitors that gathered are now so finely trained that the most famous physically challenged athlete in the world, South Africa’s Oscar “Blade Runner” Pistorius, found himself newly challenged. Fresh off being the first amputee to compete in the regular Olympics, he repeated as Paralympic champion in the 400-meters. But he was dethroned in the 200-meters and 100-meters by younger athletes who said he is their hero. Pistorius’s range of emotions captured the intensity and improvement of Paralympic athletes, going from complaining about the blades of 200 winner Alan Oliveira of Brazil to praising 100 winner Jonnie Peacock of Great Britain by saying, “To see a performance and to be beaten by an athlete like that, makes me extremely happy.”
The world is now seeing performances that deserve coverage and attention. Last weekend, at the end of the games, Royal Air Force jets streaked across the skies of London, while hundreds of thousands of people massed outside Buckingham Palace. Many were there to celebrate a magical summer that began with Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, continued through the Olympics, and concluded with the Paralympics. It says a lot about the ascendance of the Paralympics that many Britons considered the three events to be equally worthy of celebration.