Barcelona – “such a beautiful horizon”. Freddie and Montserrat were right, it is and it was. This Paralympic Games was special.
A forgotten fishing port on the Med, transformed via Expo and Olympic Games into a world destination, riding high still some thirty years later.
And what of the 1992 Paralympic Games? Well, they almost didn’t happen – and, if they did, it looked highly likely that it would not to be in the Olympic host city. But they did, the troubles were addressed (a conversation for another time) and Spain was the focus for us all – Olympic AND Paralympic hopefuls.
I was still training at City of Birmingham, Rick Bailey, my previous coach now rising up the ranks in the City’s leisure department. My coach for Barcelona, the brilliant Barry Prime, an ex Olympian himself and a coach who knew more than any at the time exactly how to perfectly execute a taper into competition.
Months before we boarded the plane for Barcelona we had another Paralympic first, not completely combined Olympic and Paralympic swimming trials – that would come some years later – but massively important, we got to swim in a series of showcase events at the Olympic trials up at Ponds Forge.
Arriving in Barcelona, we were hosted in amazing accommodation. It was the first time Paralympians got to stay in the Olympic village. And what a village, set along the shoreline, absolutely sensational. If you have stayed in The Arts Hotel in Barcelona, you too have stayed in the Olympic and Paralympic village.
And the pool, pretty special too; the crowds, the competitors, bathed in Spanish sunshine in a stunning open air setting.
My coach at the Games, Steve Rafferty, understanding perfectly how Barry had prepared me. Steve was a great sprint coach and completely tuned into not just the physical but crucially, the psychological components of sprint competition.
It was a great week of racing, thousands of hours and millions of metres in training, distilled into seconds of competition- it went well.
What made the Barcelona 1992 Paralympics so special though, was that they were the people’s Paralympics. The people of Barcelona, they came, they spectated, they became Paralympic fans. Tickets were free but people still had to commit to coming and they did. Thousands chose to come, they came and they experienced.
Broadcast also progressed, live TV and radio interviews from poolside and action shown on that weekend’s Grandstand, hosted by Steve Ryder. Paralympic sports, this time days rather than months later, and shown as sport on the BEEBs primetime sport show!
Friends for life
What do I take from Barcelona, from participating at sport at the highest level? I am so fortunate to have competed in such an arena, but over the sport even, the lasting message, still true all this time later, are the words of the anthem to the Games, “Amigos Para siempres”. Yes, friends for life. I met them, made them, hold them close today as then. Friends for life, more valuable than Gold, Silver or Bronze, forged though through all that medal competition.
It will be this that our Paralympians will make this summer in Tokyo, a difficult Games, uniquely so, but, the mission remains the same. The medals are there to be won and the friendships, for life, waiting to be realized. To everyone boarding the plane to Tokyo, you carry the nation’s hopes, support and passion for the Paralympics with you. We can’t be with you in the stands but we are right there with you, on the edge of our sofas, on our feet, roaring on your performances, brought to us all, more hours, more sport from our marvellous Channel 4. Channel 4: THE Paralympic broadcaster.
Paralympic Perspectives I: golden history
Paralympic Perspectives II: Seoul 1988, my first Paralympic Games
Paralympic Perspectives IV: Sydney 2000, “Bad day at the office”
Paralympic Perspectives V: London 2012, “the greatest Paralympic Games ever”
Paralympic Perspectives VI: Paralympic classification explained