Whereas the tennis world was focused on stormy US Open, I was enjoying a few days in sunny London during the Paralympics.
Wandering round London, it was nearly impossible to avoid the Paralympics.
The Olympic Park
East London has undergone major development in the last few years to transform it into the centrepiece of London 2012.
Most Olympic and Paralympic events took place at the ground-breaking 2.5 square km Olympic Park in Stratford. The most distinctive venues in the Olympic Park are the Olympic Stadium, that played host to the Olympic and the Paralympic Athletics as well as all the opening and closing ceremonies, Zaha Hadid’s Aquatics Centre and the Velodrome, nicknamed the Pringle.
The Olympic Park has now closed its doors and will remain shut for at least a year while venues are dismantled.
While the fate of the Olympic Stadium remains uncertain, three of the eight sports venues (the temporary basketball, water polo and Riverbank arenas) will disappear.
As for the four remaining venues:
– Zaha Hadid’s Aquatics Centre will shed its wings, reducing the seating capacity from 17500 to 2500. It will host training and competitions and will be open to the public.
– the Velodrome will be the heart of the new Lee Valley Velopark, including the Olympic BMX track and new bike trails, café and hire and workshop facilities.
– the Copper Box, the multi-use arena, will host a myriad of sports as well as concerts and corporate events upon reopening, with a gym, exercise studio and café.
– Eton Manor, that hosted the Wheelchair tennis competition will become a permanent home for the Lee Valley Hockey Centre and the Lee Valley Tennis Centre, and is scheduled to host the European Hockey Championships in 2015.
The site will reopen as the Queen Elizabeth II Olympic Park in 2014.
The Games Makers
The purple Games Makers uniforms have become synonymous with the London 2012 Games: thousands of volunteers took to the streets to inform and guide the athletes, officials and fans:
The five Olympic giant rings on the front of the National Gallery have been replaced by three curved crescents: the Paralympics Agitos.
Paralympics in the city:
Snapshots from London: the Agitos on Tower Bridge
Snapshots from London: the Agitos on the National Gallery
Snapshots from London: Mandeville, the Paralympic mascot
Snapshots from London: Olympics in the city
London Paralympic venues
A day out in the Olympic Park – part one
A day out in the Olympic Park – part two
Paralympic Wheelchair Tennis:
Paralympic Wheelchair Tennis FAQ
Eton Manor, wheelchair tennis venue for the Paralympics
2012 Paralympics: Esther Vergeer vs Aniek Van Koot pics and videos
2012 Paralympics: Shuker-Whiley vs Khantasit-Techamaneewat
The Paralympic mascot is inspired by Stoke Mandeville in Buckinghamshire, which is regarded as the birthplace of the Paralympic Games.
During the 1948 Olympic Games held in London, Sir Ludwig Guttmann held a sporting competition in Stoke Mandeville for World War II soldiers with spinal injuries. Gutmann had a vision of a “parallel Olympics” for athletes who had a disability and through his rehabilitation work, the Stoke Mandeville Games grew until they became formally known as the Paralympic Games first held in Rome in 1960.
St Paul’s Mandeville:
A collection of 83 sculptures of Wenlock (the Olympic mascot) and Mandeville (the Paralympic mascot) were planted at sites around London as part of a new ‘discovery’ trail to promote the Games.
Each outfit represents a different element of the capital’s culture.
A few Mandeville and Wenlock I spotted:
First it was the Olympic Rings, and now it’s the turn of the Paralympic Agitos to grace Tower Bridge.
Just as the Olympics boasts the famous five Olympic Rings emblem, so too does the Paralympics have its own symbol: three ‘Agitos’ coloured red, blue, and green, encircling a single point on a white field.
The colours of the Agitos (from the Latin verb ‘agito’ – I move) feature the three most widely represented colours of national flags around the world.
Esther Vergeer is the most successful wheelchair tennis player in history and owns one of the longest streak ever in world sport. By August this year she had won more than 450 consecutive unbeaten matches since her last loss in January 2003.
She started to play wheelchair tennis at age 12 after a surgery on her spinal cord went wrong. She played her first tournament in 1994 and became world number one for the first time in 1999.
In 2011 she became World champion for the 12th consecutive year and captured her 14th successive singles titles at the Wheelchair Tennis Masters.
Esther is a five-time Paralympic gold medallist, having won singles and doubles gold medals at Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004, singles gold and silver doubles in Beijing 2008.
She has been coached by Sven Groeneveld – who has worked with players like Monica Seles, Arantxa Sanchez, Ana Ivanovic…- since 2009.
My parents brought me up to be a good goal-setter, I know what I want to achieve and I know what I hace to do for it. Of course it’s hard to say I would have the same spirit, the same abilities and the same talent if I was an able-bodied girl, but there is a part of me that is a fighter.
If I got my gold medals out of their box and I hold them and look at them again, then I do realise it’s amazing what happened to me, what I’ve done and what I could achieve.
Pic: ITF Olympic Book