A separate edition. On this Sunday, 9 September 2012, fireworks light up the sky in Stratford, on the eastern outskirts of the English capital. Ten years ago until today, inside the brand new Olympic Stadium, we celebrated the end of the Paralympic Games in London, a significant fifteenth edition in more than one respect.
After the parade of athletes, the tables follow one another until a momentum. At the sound of the drums, scattered here and there on the lawn, two mobile sailboats burst into the center of the field, transformed for the occasion into a theater. On one of the ships, Barbadian singer Rihanna reveals herself. To the cheers of the crowd, she then accompanies Chris Martin, the leader of the Coldplay group, in the song “Princess of China”. A few minutes later, the two stars are joined by rapper Jay-Z, another star of international standing, who has come to join the party.
Ten years later, Sandrine Martinet, a four-time Paralympic judo medalist (blind category), still remembers this closing ceremony. “It was incredible, a moment forever engraved. Having celebrities like that to wrap up the Games was a strong message.”he adds. All the more so as long before its conclusion, London 2012 had set the tone for a special edition. So much so that even today the event serves as a turning point in the world of parasports.
First disabled skipper (he was born without his left hand) for completing the Vendée Globe in 2021, Damien Seguin was the flag bearer of the tricolor delegation during the opening ceremony. He experienced this unprecedented craze in the British capital firsthand. “The most surprising thing was the people who mobilized to come and see the athletes in the stadiums, swimming pools etc.”remember. “There were volunteers almost everywhere in the city to refer people, we really felt that a step forward had been made in the quality of the organization”specifies the one who participated in four editions of the Paralympic Games, from 2004 to 2016 (for two titles and a silver medal).
For Sandrine Martinet, too, the atmosphere that reigned in London was disproportionate to her previous experiences. “We felt a sort of emulation which meant we had to talk about ourselves. The public was much more informed about the different disciplines, the sportsmen … mentalities are starting to evolveadds.
“These were, quite simply, fantastic Paralympic Games.”
– Paralympic Games (@Paralympics) August 29, 2022
Behind the scenes, many people have been working for the British bid, and this since 2002. Quickly, it sets itself the goal of offering a new face to the Paralympic Games. “The unique thing is that the Organizing Committee understood very quickly that this event could be promising”explains Lambis Konstantinidis, planning and coordination director of the Paris 2024 Organizing Committee and who has worked on most of the latest editions. “The Paralympic Games weren’t seen as an appendage in the contracts behind the Olympics, it was something he was on (the Committee) he wanted to invest in repositioning it as a major planetary event. “
At the head of the London 2012 teams as director of integration, Chris Holmes had the hat of the great organizer. Under his leadership, a single Organizing Committee was created, which worked for both the Olympic and Paralympic Games. A heavy argument which, in his opinion, contributed to the success of this edition. “I didn’t want us to have only a slight increase in broadcasts, in the number of viewers … We had all the cards in hand to create a whole new Paralympic paradigm”, explains the nine-time Paralympic swimming champion (blind category). No more free tickets – “parasport has value” – and welcome to the historic sponsors of the Olympic Games in the Paralympic fold.
Another strong argument: the full commitment of Canale 4 alongside the Organizing Committee. “One of the biggest deals done in 2012”says Chris Holmes. Thanks to the support of the public service channel and an XXL promotional campaign, the mobilization of the British public will be present. Advertising plastered throughout the city – “meet the superheroes” – they will have their little effect.
“Forget everything you thought you knew about strength”
– ParalympicsGB (@ParalympicsGB) July 17, 2022
For Charlotte Fairbank, a wheelchair-bound tennis player who played her first Games in Tokyo last summer, London has brought above all a new perspective on parasports. “We had the feeling that Paralympic athletes were finally seen as real athletes, that people realize that it is as difficult to reach the highest level as it is for able-bodied people.”
It is this change of mentality that has evolved with the Games and which, according to her, has structured the question of accessibility in the capital. “People were saying to each other: ‘ok, people with disabilities can be independent and they can do everything’, so we will make this city as accessible as possible so that these people maintain this independence”.
With most of its Olympic venues built from the ground up, London 2012 was able to integrate best practices on the accessibility of sports facilities. At the same time, the South Bank district, located on the south bank of the Thames, around Waterloo Station, has been significantly modified. “We have launched an improvement project to make all these physical spaces accessible and inclusive, be they shops but also cafes or cultural institutions. (Southbank Center, the National Theater …)“adds Chris Holmes. The district of Stratford, one of the poorest in the British capital, has also been significantly developed.
According to International Paralympic Committee (IPC) chairman Andrew Parsons, more than one million additional hires of people with disabilities have occurred since the Paralympic Games in the UK. A social and social progress that France hopes to benefit from in 2024.
“We must not underestimate the scale of the challenge that awaits Paris in two years”Chris Holmes
to franceinfo: sport
This legacy dimension has quickly established itself as a top priority by Tony Estanguet and del Cojo, but the results will still be difficult to assess in the short term. The challenge for parasports and athletes is another for Damien Seguin. “For a few years we have been talking about it a little more, but the media coverage remains quite marginal, a bit like women’s sport was a few years ago. I have the impression that we are following the same curve, things will improve and we need symbolic moments, like London 2012. And, as I hope, Paris will be. “
The first milestones have been set, with the reunification of the Olympic and Paralympic athletes within a single French team, with the sharing of the same emblem … An unprecedented desire for unity that illustrates the evolutionary consideration of parasport. “If we compare the values of the French Republic and those of the Paralympic movement, we find one in common: equality”raises, observer, Chris Holmes. “It would be a wonderful connection to bring this to life. This is also what makes me say yes, even Paris unquestionably has a lot more pressure on their shoulders.”