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Monday, September 3, 2012
It was the first day of competition in the Paralympics but it felt like a continuation of the Olympics. The same cheerful and cheeky greetings from the games makers, the same posing for photos under the Orbital, the same buzz in the park.
I settled down at the Aquatics Centre for 15 finals.
Although this is a games where we are told ability will eclipse disability, the first race, the men’s 100m S6 backstroke, could not help but be moving as the competitors were introduced to the crowd.
But Tao Zhang of China, who has no arms, signalled the quality of the sport to come by breaking the world record, the first of five to fall throughout the evening.
People that few of us had heard of a week before were now heroes whose entrance we keenly awaited: Nyree Kindred, Hannah Russell, Jonathan Fox.
Every Team GB competitor at the Olympics talked about the home crowd’s cheer. It is just as overwhelming at the Paralympics.
The mere mention of a British athlete brought a surge of sound, but during Russell’s incredibly tight 400m S12 freestyle final the roar simply got louder and louder until in the last 25m it seemed the sheer volume might push her past Oxana Savchenko for the gold. The volume only dipped slightly in the last five metres when we realised it could not.
And soon it was Fox, who had broken the world record in the morning’s 100m S7 backstroke qualification.
He had a comfortable lead at the turn but as Yevheniy Bohodayko powered closer and closer the noise became louder still, more desperate, almost hysterical. Fox hung on and enthusiastically encouraged his ovation from the pool side.
There were other plenty of other moments.
Frenchman Charles Rozoy had his hand on his heart as the tricolour was raised at his 100m S8 butterfly ceremony, but as he heard the Union Flag-drapped spectators singing the Marseillaise he started to wave it in the air, seemingly conducting them.
Sophie Pascoe of New Zealand took a massive three seconds off the 200m SM10 individual medley world record she had set hours earlier, and Natalie Du Toit took the first of a possible seven golds. Like Michael Phelps, this is her last games.
In a preview of the Paralympics, BBC Radio 5 Live said that at first viewers would notice the disabilities, but after a couple of days all they would see was the sport. They were wrong. It only took a couple of races.