10 years ago, we were in the midst of the London 2012 Paralympic Games. No one had known how it would go. The names that were to become household names, the Great British success’ celebrated, most of all, the attitude-altering, opportunity-creating phenomena that it became.
There were some serious hints in the opening ceremony. Curated by our artistic directors, the brilliant Jenny Sealey and Brad Hemmings. We had Shakespeare and sway poles, disabled people’s aeronautics and glass ceilings being (more than symbolically) smashed. Perhaps most poignant, in amongst it all, this celebration of the human spirit, this championing of courage, the most famous disabled person living, perhaps, the most famous of all time. Yes, at the centre of the stadium, Stephen Hawking, not just talking about possibilities beyond ourselves, but possibilities beyond our universe. What a way to open, to launch into the next nine days of gravity-defying, crowd-creating, world-class sport.
3 Key Objectives
In planning the Games, we had so many milestones, KPIs, plans, budget projections and all that paper, all standard and necessary. But, more than that, I had three overarching areas of focus. The standard project stuff was essential, but I knew, that if we achieved my three key objectives, we could construct a completely reimagined Paralympic paradigm. I didn’t want to just nudge the dial and move the Games on a bit, I wanted something radical, something completely transformational.
My three ‘mission-critical’ drivers were:
- to sell all the tickets,
- to have all Olympic sponsors also Paralympic sponsors and
- to have the Paralympics as a global broadcast event.
None of these had ever been achieved before. And not many people believed that one, never mind all three, could be done.
The Countdown Begins
Nothing is achieved without some forward thinking though, so wind back one year to 2011. If we were to achieve all of this in 2012, we needed a massive moment ahead of the Games, lighthouse, disrupter, call it what you will. A moment to blast the fact of the London 2012 Paralympic Games into the consciousness of the nation. Bring on International Paralympic Day 2011 in Trafalgar Square. All twenty of the Paralympic sports showcased in front of the world’s media. At lunchtime, at the centre of the square, a unique game of tennis between the then PM, David Cameron and the then Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. It started off pretty gentle, then, when Boris took his jacket off, I knew it was going to get a bit tasty. I’ll let you guess who won. The real winner though, was Paralympic sport, for the first time dominating the media that day and subsequently. The next morning, it was picture of the day in the Wall St Journal. Two weeks later when we put Paralympic tickets on sale, well over a million sold in the first 14 days. That was the moment when many more began to believe that we could and would do something special at London 2012.
We did it!
One year later, on 29 August 2012, as the Queen declared ‘the Games open’ we had:
- sold every ticket for every sport, every session,
- all Olympic sponsors were fully behind our Paralympic Games and
- the sports and soon to be stars would be seen and heard on broadcast outlets right around the world.
We had done it! Those three key objectives had been achieved and now to the Games. To the sport itself, the pool, the stadium, the velodrome and every venue. The ticket holders, the sponsors, the TV viewers could now, would now, all experience the magic of the Paralympic Games, every moment, searing into our memories forever.
My Top 10 Moments from 2012
As it has been 10 years since London 2012 Paralympic Games, it also seems fitting for me to recall my top 10 sporting sensations of that spectacular summer of sport:
Hannah Cockcroft. Nicknamed ‘the hurricane’ and rightly so, Hannah became Great Britain’s first track gold medallist at 2012. Hannah didn’t just win, she whooped it, taking down her competition in both of her gold medal performances by over a second.
Jody Cundy. A different experience. His first event fell apart with problems at the start, resulting in some fruity, loud language from Cundy in front of a packed velodrome. But, the power of the performer, to come straight out, in the midst such disappointment and make a full and wholesome apology to the crowd, to sign autographs outside the venue afterwards and in the coming days to bring home gold, that’s the strength of real character.
Ellie Simmonds. A star of Beijing four years earlier where, aged just 13 she had won multiple golds in the pool now with the media pressure on her at a home Games. With 50M to go in her 400M freestyle the crowd were on their feet, could she, would she be able to defend her title. The last length she answered an emphatic yes, winning, smashing the world record by over five seconds. Ellie went on to further sporting gold and, as you may know, will be starring in Strictly this season.
Sarah Storey. Sarah, who started in the Paralympic pool in 1992 had switched to cycling come 2012. in spectacular style took home four golds from London and has since become our most successful Paralympian ever. She is set to compete at Paris in 2024.
Similarly starting in the pool, Richard Whitehead had transitioned to the track and won a most memorable 200M gold at London.
David Weir. Like Storey, in 10 days, David nailed four gold medals. At a Games, both Olympic and Paralympic, where nicknames were all the rage, we will always remember those magical moments given to us by ‘the Weirwolf.’
Great Britain’s equestrian team. Golden riders since the sport entered the Games in 1996 London was to be no exception. The team won the team event and who can forget the individual gold performances of Sophie Christiansen, Natasha Baker and the legend that is Lee Pearson.
And to two international superstars. Esther Vergeer won wheelchair tennis individual and doubles gold for The Netherlands. Over her career she has totally dominated the tennis court, winning 695 singles matches, losing just 25 and spending 668 weeks as world No.1. And, the overall gold medallist of the Games, Jacqueline Freney from Australia winning a massive eight gold medals in the pool.
10 out of 10, Jonnie Peacock. What a performance, what a star, a teenager from the midlands, 100M world record holder coming into the Games. At the start, 80,0000 spectators chanting ‘Peacock, Peacock’. That self-same teenager, calmly, confidently standing, holding a finger to his lips and the stadium falls silent, the athletes called to their marks and Peacock roars home to golden glory. If I could only have one, this is my sporting moment of 2012.
The London 2012 Games. The Games of the possible.