It has taken a few days to settle into the routine of normality following the media onslaught of the Olympics; but all hands on deck as the Paralympics is just around the corner. And what better opportunity to see the best of the U.S.A. in action at The University of East London’s (UEL) SportsDock?
Following a very successful Team USA processing through the UEL’s new sports facility now was the time to showcase the venue in advance of the Games.
Women’s wheelchair basketball Teams Great Britain and USA went head to head (or wheel to wheel) on Friday night at the brand new facility. Team USA may have been a little jet-lagged following their recent arrival on British soil and even more confused to find that the largely British audience were cheering on the USA team. But once the Brits realized that UEL was the official home of Team USA in London, the guest nation, Team GB received the majority of the crowd’s support in a very tight game.
According to Team USA’s Women’s wheelchair basketball manager, Jeff Downes “winning gold in London was not a forgone conclusion,” after his team’s gold medals in Beijing and Athens. Downes explained that other countries were catching up and that there were at least six teams that had a chance to medal. After Team USA cruised ahead at the outset, Team GB gained some momentum and the Americans only just managed to keep their nose in front right through to the final whistle of the warm-up match. (Perhaps it was the fact that they had just arrived on British soil in advance of the friendly.) The crowd was enthralled and what stood out was that the very fast-paced action made everyone forget that these elite athletes were running on wheels.
Women’s basketball is not the only event where many individual and team athletes are playing catch-up, and at a speed that may have not been anticipated just a couple of Paralympics ago. While Paralympic poster boy Oscar Pistorius representing South Africa is the brand of Paralympic track and field, the competition is fast gaining momentum; and once again that adds to the excitement and anticipation of the sport. Watch out for the very ambitious plans of British athlete, Johnny Peacock and competition from some very capable U.S. Paralympic track and field athletes.
But despite the landgrab for Paralympic tickets at London 2012, Paralympic sport may be similar but at the same time there are large and significant differences: similar in the sense that the competition is just as exciting, but different due to the unfamiliarity of many of the sports and their rules. At a recent press conference the question whether Paralympic sport should be integrated into able-bodied sport received a largely negative response from both athletes and organizers. But this may prove to be short-sighted.
Great competition is good for everyone and the economics of hosting major sporting events in years to come may prove to be a deal breaker if host cities are unable to benefit from financial economies of scale. There may be some logistical considerations for the very large events including the likes of additional accommodation requirements and ticket sales; but fully-integrated sports events may benefit disability sport. In the spirit of the revolving door policy of introducing new sports and eliminating others the Paralympics may benefit in a world where the vast majority increasingly perceive fewer differences between the entertainment value of able-bodied and disability sport.
The nirvana that is total integration may in time prove to be the yellow brick road of future Games. Only time and the all important legacy aspects of successful competition/sporting events will define the future.
But one all important footnote. While the BBC and many other international networks showcased the London 2012 Olympic Games with wall-to-wall coverage, the U.K.’s Paralympic host station, Channel 4 does not have the same resources. And only a handful of countries will be making available a minimum of eight hours a day of live coverage such as ABC Television, Australia. Never underestimate that in the minds of many, visibility and familiarity in the world of sport really does count!
Darryll Adler is a London-based sports journalist who has written for such media outlets as SportBusiness International, Business Travel Executive, Stadia Magazine, PanStadia, shortsandsports.com and Wired.
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