London 2012 Revisited – Paralympics Highlights

Large sculpture of the Paralympics symbol, made of 3 agitos marks in red, blue and green. It's held up on 3 poles, in the middle of the grass with trees in the background.

Soon after the sensational Olympics in 2012, which I’ve recently posted about extensively to mark the 10th anniversary, we then got to enjoy another couple of weeks of multi-sporting excellence courtesy of the Paralympics. Having disabled people take centre stage in these Games, for the whole world to see their stunning achievements, is always incredibly important and thrilling to watch. The Opening Ceremony took place exactly 10 years ago today as I’m publishing this, on 29 August 2012.

The Paralympics cannot change all of society’s attitudes and behaviours overnight of course, nor does it claim to do so. It clearly doesn’t represent every disabled person or impairment, nor the myriad of different ways we each go about our lives. These are exceptional athletes who have pushed themselves to their absolute limits, so their lives are very different to the rest of us in many ways. But even so, they are still people with conditions and experiences that many of us can relate to, and their exposure on a global stage undeniably helps to raise awareness, challenge misconceptions, and encourage greater acceptance and inclusion, in an engaging and entertaining way. It isn’t a quick fix for equality and inclusivity, and it’s totally understandable that some disabled people take issue with the way it’s promoted – there is a lot of work to be done beyond the Paralympic bubble for sure. But it is a very prominent springboard in the right direction, and I for one love watching it.

The London 2012 Paralympics were the biggest Games to date, and they certainly made their mark, by successfully extending and surfing on the tidal wave of intense enthusiasm that had been generated by the Olympics. They sold record numbers of tickets and attracted a huge TV audience, as people flocked to watch and support the biggest number of disabled competitors to date, many of whom were or became lasting household names.

So in this post I’m going to look back at some of my favourite moments of the 2012 Paralympics, with the aid of Channel 4’s Blu-ray set of the Games. There isn’t as much to talk about as there was for the Olympics, so I can go through it in just one post this time, but there are still lots of great highlights worth mentioning along the way. And I’ve also created a Paralympics playlist on Youtube with plenty of clips too. So I hope you enjoy!

Contents

Channel 4 Blu-ray

Channel 4 deserve a lot of praise for taking a calculated risk in 2012, when they took on broadcasting duties for the Paralympics, delivering by far the most comprehensive coverage there had ever been on TV and online, with some disabled presenters amongst their team. And they’ve continued to broadcast the Paralympics and a few other disability sports since then too, it’s been wonderful to see them making such a commitment.

They released a Blu-ray set of the Paralympics in 2012, hot on the heels of the BBC’s Olympics set. It’s not as comprehensive, but it covers a lot of the important stuff and is still great to watch. While the BBC set contained a few hours of footage on each of its 5 discs, Channel 4’s set contains just 2 hours on each of its 3 discs:

  • Disc 1 contains sporting highlights and extras, with subtitles and audio description available, and a chapter for each day. When the disc first loads, it plays Channel 4’s wonderfully edited Meet The Superhumans promo of disabled athletes playing a variety of sports (which is weirdly still accessible via search results on Youtube, despite its channel being deleted, so there’s nothing to read or interact with below the video). And that’s followed by 30 seconds of sponsorship ads for BT (featuring Jonnie Peacock) and Sainsbury’s. All of those opening videos are skippable, so you don’t have to sit through them. The menu plays part of the song Movin’ On Up by Primal Scream.
  • Discs 2 & 3 contain the Opening & Closing Ceremonies respectively. Both have subtitles and chapter selection, but only the Opening Ceremony has an audio descriptive commentary available, which is a pity. There is also a 10-minute extra of scrolling credits, which is the same on both discs, listing everyone involved with the production and broadcasting of the ceremonies. The menus on both discs just play the sound of audience applause.

On all 3 discs, the main feature begins with Channel 4’s title sequence of animated figures made of various shapes, playing sports in iconic London locations, accompanied by the song Harder Than You Think by Public Enemy. It samples Jezahel by Shirley Bassey, which is her cover of Jesahel by Delirium. The Public Enemy track is used in the Meet The Superhumans promo I mentioned above as well, and Channel 4 continue to use it for their disability sport coverage to this day. It’s also used for the titles of The Last Leg, which began as a light-hearted daily review of the 2012 Games, and went on to become a hugely popular staple of Friday night telly as they try to make sense of, and find humour in, the latest news stories. Online you can also hear an instrumental, Dehasse remix and Featurecast remix of the song, the latter being my favourite of those alternate mixes as it’s very catchy.

Opening Ceremony

The Opening Ceremony of the Paralympics wasn’t as epic or excitingly memorable as the one for the Olympics, as the set pieces weren’t on the same scale and there weren’t as many famous faces this time. But it was still very well put together, including some very talented disabled performers. Plus I have the Enlightenment soundtrack album that goes with it, which has some nice tracks.

The full video of the ceremony on the Paralympics Youtube channel, using their own commentators, is knocking on the door of 4 hours, while Channel 4’s Blu-ray edit is just 2 hours. But that’s because Channel 4 have cut out most of the Parade of Athletes, which takes up just over half of the running time, along with a few other small edits elsewhere. The entrance of the Great Britain team is shown in full of course, to the tune of Heroes by David Bowie, with wheelchair tennis player Peter Norfolk leading the way as our flag bearer. But there are just fleeting glimpses of some of the other countries in the parade for a couple of minutes before that. It’s a pity for those who want to watch every single nation entering the stadium, but it’s the sort of thing I skip over anyway, so I’m not worried about that, and it’s good that you still have the option to see it all online if you wish to.

Other notable formalities included:

It was also nice that they thought of accessibility during the ceremony, with lyrics to songs up on the big screens, sign language interpreters at certain important moments, and the respectfully adapted instruction “For those who can, please stand” when asking people to observe official anthems.

Beyond those essential traditions, the performing showcase elements of the ceremony were all about curiosity and exploration, from the fear of the unknown through to the joy of discovery, whether that’s new worlds, books, science, personal talents, self-confidence, and so on. We can and should and inevitably will embark on our own individual journeys of enlightenment through our lifetimes, and we should harness the opportunities and possibilities presented to us. And everyone has an equal right to pursue and become the best version of themselves. Disability isn’t and shouldn’t be a barrier to that, and it wouldn’t be if everyone had equal and fair rights, which not everybody does.

Our eyes and ears through this journey is Miranda from The Tempest, a young woman in a wheelchair played by Nicola Miles-Wild. She learns more about herself and what the universe has to offer, thanks to the guiding hand of Sir Ian McKellen as Prospero, who joins her at regular intervals to impart his wisdom. Plus Professor Stephen Hawking delivers some profound and important messages of his own throughout the ceremony, which are included during some of the tracks on the soundtrack album.

Along the way Miranda is educated and entertained via huge choreographed scenes involving hundreds of performers, backed by clever animations generated on the big ‘pixels’ all around the stadium behind each audience member. So they are very busy sequences with a lot to take in, arguably too much sometimes, and as a result the audio description track is rather essential. Sights included lots of dancers with umbrellas that lit up in various colours as they performed to a remix of Umbrella by Rihanna, wheelchair users driving huge objects around the stadium, break dancing by Flawless, references to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, disabled athletes being lifted into the air including Tanni Grey-Thompson, a journey through a stormy ocean on a boat made of an upturned umbrella, a maze made of giant apples, and mentions of the Large Hadron Collider.

There were also some songs performed by various artists, not all of which appealed to me greatly but were nicely done regardless. My personal favourite is the cover of Ian Dury’s Spasticus Autisticus by the Graeae Theatre group of disabled performers. I saw their Ian Dury musical Reasons To Be Cheerful in 2017, and more recently they posted a lockdown version of Spasticus Autisticus with an audio described introduction in 2020. In the ceremony it’s part of a mix with Where Is It Going? by Orbital, featuring words from Stephen Hawking who is even wearing the band’s distinctive shades. That section also finished by revealing a replica model of the Alison Lapper Pregnant sculpture by Marc Quinn.

A few of the other songs that didn’t grab me so much but are still worth noting included:

Sporting Highlights

There was a packed schedule for these Games, with a record 4,302 Paralympians from 164 countries taking part in 503 events across 20 sports in 11 days. So it is a shame that Channel 4, after their astonishingly comprehensive coverage at the time, saw fit to put just 2 hours of highlights together for their Blu-ray set. It does mention several big headlines and includes quite a few significant moments, and it is very nicely edited with audio description available, so it’s well worth watching and keeping as a lovely souvenir of the Games. But they could easily have doubled or tripled the amount of highlights presented.

The programme is divided into 1 chapter per day, each lasting anywhere from 5-17 minutes, with the always capable, friendly and knowledgeable Clare Balding providing an introduction each time. A few races or events are shown in some degree of detail each day, including interviews with some of the athletes, while various other notable achievements for the British team are noted as fleeting headlines. Some athletes from other nations get mentioned as well, but naturally our home team are the main focus.

It’s also important to note that each para sport has its own classification system, because of the unique physical requirements in each case. These systems attempt to group athletes together with similar disabilities, in a way that ensures competition is as fair as possible. So there will often be multiple versions of each race or event, each with a different classification code that indicates the type and severity of disability for those participating in it. It’s not a perfect science by any means, given the vast spectrum of impairments that exist, so there can be arguments and appeals about which classification an athlete should be. But it generally works well.

It can get very confusing for those unfamiliar with it, however. So Channel 4 use LEXI, a special animated guide invented by Paralympic swimming champion Giles Long, that displays colour-coded graphics to simplify and explain the classifications for each sport. And I think it works really well. There may be complexities that it can’t cover, but it gives viewers the basics they need to know. The most relevant LEXI guides are included on Disc 1 of the Blu-ray set as an extra feature, which is really handy.

I’m not going to mention every single event or every single British medal. But the Blu-ray either features or briefly mentions a lot of them. The links to the names of races and some other events take you directly to the relevant videos.

Among the events featured most heavily on this compilation, cycling gets a lot of attention, as the British team topped that medal table with 8 gold, 9 silver and 5 bronze medals. There were a lot of track events at the Lee Valley Velodrome to begin with, then the action switched to the road at Brands Hatch. The highlights included:

Swimming is also heavily featured, where Britain got 7 gold, 16 silver and 16 bronze medals. Highlights include:

Meanwhile, over in the Olympic Stadium, our British athletes got deafening cheers every time they were introduced, and secured 11 gold, 7 silver and 11 bronze medals between them, placing us third in the athletics table. Highlights from this arena included:

Oscar Pistorius was also a big star at the time of course, having also raced in the Olympics just a few weeks earlier, though he was also causing controversy by making allegations about the length of a competitor’s blades. But his appearances in the highlights programme have a very different feel altogether now, given the way he destroyed his career and reputation the following year. So I’m not going to mention his events.

As for other sports that are briefly shown on the Blu-ray, many of which would have deserved much greater attention:

  • We only had one medal in the rowing – but it was a lovely gold one, courtesy of our mixed cox four. So there’s a brief interview with team member Naomi Riches in the programme.
  • We won both gold and silver in the archery, as Danielle Brown beat her teammate Mel Clarke, in a tight match that was decided by the final arrow.
  • In the boccia, David Smith got a silver in his individual game, while we won a bronze in the team event.
  • In the table tennis our big hope Will Bayley had done extremely well, but just wasn’t quite in the right frame of mind for the final and came away with the silver, which is still highly respectable.
  • The five-a-side football for visually impaired players gets a brief couple of mentions, with a clip of our first match against Spain, in which we drew 1-1, and a later match in which we beat Turkey 2-0. We didn’t progress beyond the group stage though, ending up in 7th place. This was the final Paralympics for captain David Clarke, who had carried the torch in the Opening Ceremony, and he gave a nice speech to the crowd, expressing admiration and hope for the future of the other players. The team included Keryn Seal, who used to go to my school, although I didn’t know him personally. The 7-a-side competition was also briefly mentioned, but Britain were eliminated at the group stage there too.
  • In the sailing, there was gold for Helena Lucas in the 2.4mR 1-Person Keelboat event. But a bronze won by our team was controversially withdrawn after they were given a 4-point penalty for breaking boat maintenance rules.
  • In wheelchair tennis, Peter Norfolk (our flagbearer at the Opening Ceremony) and Andy Lapthorne won silver in the Quad Doubles, while Lucy Shuker & Jordanne Whiley got bronze in the Women’s Doubles.
  • In the wheelchair basketball, Great Britain are gutted after losing their bronze medal match to the USA.
  • Other sports fleetingly mentioned on the Blu-ray include wheelchair rugby, wheelchair fencing & sitting volleyball, but there’s no major British interest. And some other sports aren’t mentioned at all.

Ultimately we got a hugely impressive 120 medals in total, with 34 gold, 43 silver & 43 bronze! And, as with the Olympians, the Royal Mail painted a post box gold in the home town of each gold medallist.

Clare Balding rounds up the programme on the Blu-ray by saying the Games remind us that we shouldn’t limit ourselves by what we think we can’t do, and instead we should define ourselves by what we can do. It then ends with a poem by Paralympics GB team captain Stephen Miller called Only Dreams Can Save Us. It’s read by Steven and other athletes over a final montage of images from the Games. It’s a beautiful way to finish it off.

Closing Ceremony

As with the Closing Ceremony of the Olympics, the finale of the Paralympics was less of a ceremony and more of a party, which is a natural way to end, and is also perhaps no surprise when Kim Gavin was the director for both. In fact, this one was basically an epic concert by Coldplay, as they dominated the proceedings. So if, like me, you’re not a fan of them, then this is probably the ceremony of least interest out of the four that took place in the stadium that summer. It’s also the only ceremony without an accompanying soundtrack album. But in any case, there were still some nice moments within it all.

The full ceremony video on the Paralympic Games channel is 2½ hours, but on Channel 4’s Blu-ray it’s been edited down by half an hour. In particular, it looks like they’ve cut out the entrance of the nation’s flags, the Whang Youn Dai Achievement Award, and Rio’s presentation performance after the raising of their flag. So that’s a pity. I can understand them cutting a 2-hour athletes parade from the Opening Ceremony, but snipping half an hour out of this one doesn’t feel necessary. It’s also a great shame that Channel 4 haven’t included audio description for this ceremony on the Blu-ray, whereas they did for the Opening Ceremony and their sporting highlights, as it really needs it sometimes.

Anyway, the ceremony began with an opening film showing very impressive steampunk-style vehicles made out of used and recycled parts by the Mutoid Waste Company approaching the stadium. Then Wind Gremlins came on to the field in the stadium, with big fans on the front of their motorbikes, and these demons attacked the Dreamers who were guarding a large version of the Agitos symbol of the Games. One of the Dreamers was still clinging on to part of the symbol as it floated away.

Captain Luke Sinnott – who had lost his legs in Afghanistan and was now aiming to compete in Rio as a Paralympic sailor – then climbed the flagpole being carried on a machine called Human Endeavour, being pulled in by a team from Help For Heroes, and raised the Union Flag. Prince Edward (The Earl Of Wessex and patron of the British Paralympic Association), accompanied by Sir Philip Craven (president of the International Paralympic Committee), then arrived in a car that was a hybrid of a 1930s gangster vehicle and an Afghanistan military vehicle used in Afghanistan.

The national anthem was then sung by Lissa Hermans, who is blind and autistic. She had already released a single of the anthem for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee that year, in aid of inclusive theatre company Chickenshed, which is sung faster than her Closing Ceremony rendition.

Lance Corporal Rory MacKenzie then gave a welcoming speech about human spirit, and introducing The Festival Of The Flame, which was the title of the ceremony. The flags of the nations were then brought in (which is omitted from the Blu-ray, so we don’t see Sarah Storey and David Weir carrying ours) before the big procession of the very impressive steampunk vehicles shown in the opening film. This is where audio description would have been really interesting, but I could see that the huge designs included a dinosaur and ships. There were also other performers, including people dressed as crows on stilts.

The Whang Youn Dai Achievement Award (omitted from the Blu-ray) was then given to Kenya’s Mary Nakhumicha Zakayo and Ireland’s Michael McKillop, before a special presentation was made to a few representatives of the volunteer Games Makers (which is on the Blu-ray) to thank them for their hard work.

Then we get into the big Coldplay concert, where they played a lot of their most famous songs. Along the way, in choreographed scenes that represented each of the 4 seasons, they were accompanied by lots of dancers and other performers, on the ground and in the air, some of whom were disabled. So visually it looks really impressive, even if the music isn’t to my personal tastes.

There’s plenty of detail about this section in the ceremony’s Wikipedia article, but the concert included:

  • We Found Love – Sung by Rihanna.
  • Viva La Vida – With confetti and Catherine wheels.
  • Rio Handover – Coldplay had a rest at this point, while the Paralympic flag was lowered, with the Paraorchestra playing the anthem Hymn L’Avenir. Then it was passed from the London Mayor Boris Johnson to Philip Craven, to the Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes, with Brazil’s anthem played as their flag was raised. Rio then put on a lively show of dancing that included disabled performers, which is sadly cut from the Blu-ray.
  • Closing The Games – Sebastian Coe & Philip Craven then gave lovely speeches thanking everybody involved, with the biggest ovations for the volunteers, armed services, emergency services and of course the athletes. Sebastian Coe told a lovely story about a medic he had met on the Tube, who had served during the attacks on 7/7/2005 and felt this was closure. And Seb finished with the simple statement “London 2012 – Made In Britain”, as we once again held that slogan to the high standards for which it’s known worldwide. Philip Craven was also very happy, hailing the event as the “greatest Paralympic Games ever”. Ellie Simmonds and Jonnie Peacock then extinguishing the cauldron, which opened up before them, and they passed the final flame captured with their torches on to other performers who passed them, so it would live on.

Conclusion

And that’s it, those are all the main moments from the Paralympics, and don’t forget to check out my Paralympics playlist for lots of clips as well. Although I haven’t written as much about them as the Olympics, that doesn’t mean they’re any less special, it just reflects the scale of the events relative to each other. The Olympics will always be the larger and most prominent of the two. But the Paralympics at this point had become bigger than ever.

The extraordinary achievements of all the athletes, from all the nations that took part, in front of sell-out crowds and record-breaking TV audiences, really did make this the best Games ever, and they were an absolute joy to watch. And while there is still a lot of work to do to improve inclusivity and accessibility for disabled people even now, the Games definitely had, and still have, a major impact on people’s perceptions. And it will be interesting to see how the Paralympics continue to grow and evolve over the coming years and decades.

That almost concludes my nostalgic look back at the London 2012 Olympics & Paralympics, and I hope you’ve enjoyed revisiting them with me. But I still have a bit more to come, as I talk about some of the celebrations and other programmes that I recorded at the time in relation to the Games. So I’ll tell you all about those soon!

Author: Glen

Love London, love a laugh, love life. Visually impaired blogger, culture vulture & accessibility advocate, with aniridia & nystagmus, posting about my experiences & adventures.

3 thoughts on “London 2012 Revisited – Paralympics Highlights”

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: