1992: my first Paralympics, part 6

After the medal ceremony and JW’s race I went back to the village on the bus with the rest of the team and some of the management who had hung around. I can still remember being squashed in like sardines as it was the last bus back to the village, and being continually congratulated by everyone who saw the medal hanging around my neck. I’m sure the grin on my face stayed there for hours. It was such a good feeling. When we returned to the village we ate and showered, and then went down to the beach with a few bottles and drank until the early hours. It was too late to go into the city, but it was nice to relax on the beach and get pleasantly merry.

The next day was the final day of competition, and for us the only event of interest was the marathon as all the track events had finished. Great Britain had three athletes taking part in the blinky marathon races. SB (not the same SB as ran in the relay!) was taking part in the B2 race, along with our apartment mate MB, and MF was taking part in the B3 race. MF was also an apartment mate of mine, and he had managed to develop a novel way of entertaining himself during the championships. He had two main ways of filling the hours. The first was going on long runs, and the second was reading the Daily Sport. Many a happy hour was spent in MF’s room with him reading out the problem pages and articles in his high pitched Wolverhampton accent. I wasn’t aware that many of the battery operated gadgets advertised in that publication even existed, but MF seemed to know loads of people who had tried them. Apparently, the gadgets boasting about enhancing certain male parts definitely didn’t work he said, and I was left wondering just exactly how he knew.

MB on the other hand had different things on his mind. MB had run the previous year at the European championships, but he was still a bit wide eyed and innocent when it came to the extravaganza that was the Paralympics. We had all been warned about the danger of over eating in the all-singing, all-dancing 24 hour dining area. Our teammate JW hadn’t taken any notice, but he was a thrower so it didn’t really matter. All JW appeared to eat was the ice cream bars which filled the freezers which stood along one end of the dining hall. But MB, being a marathon runner, should really have taken more care. If JW had to carry an extra couple of pounds across the throwing circle it didn’t really make much difference, but MB had to carry any excess weight for 26 miles, a tiny bit further than JW had to. Every time we saw MB he seemed to be carrying yet another tray of food back to his table. We kept on warning him about being a fat lard arse but apparently he thought we were just joking.

He came to see me a couple of days before the Marathon and I asked him how he was doing. He told me that he had started to get a bit concerned about his weight, but he couldn’t figure out how to translate his weight in kilograms back into stones and pounds. He had come out to the championships at around 9 stone, but now his weight, I was sorry to have to inform him after he had told me his weight in kilograms, was roughly 10 stone. He was so shocked he nearly forewent his fifth meal of the day.

MB may have thought that we were joking when we had warned him to take it easy with the grub, but he took us deadly serious when we told him what equipment he would have to take with him on the marathon. We started off by just telling him that he would have to make sure he took his accreditation with him in order to get himself on the bus, through the security to the warm-up area and to get himself marked off on the start list, and to make sure he remembered his drinks which would be deposited around the course by the officials. This was all good sensible advice, but as he received this information as if we were explaining the meaning of life to him we couldn’t help ourselves but to take it a little further.

MB was told that he would have to wear his accreditation with him on the race, as he would have to show it to the marshals as he proceeded on or he’d be thrown off the race. So he’d better think if he was going to wear it around his neck, tie it around his wrist or have it hanging from his waist band. He swallowed our little joke hook, line and sinker. It then progressed to telling him that he’d better take his passport and 25 pesetas for the pay-phones in case he got lost on the course, which was a distinct possibility due to his poor eye sight. Obviously that was the reason why he had been issued with a bum bag with his kit. MB duly turned up at the start line with bum bag and accreditation ready to do the business, until the official charged with making sure he was alright put him straight on one or two things.

The race started in the early evening and finished in the city centre later that evening. The Olympic race had finished in the stadium, but some of the best able bodied marathon runners in the world had found it difficult to climb up to the stadium in the last couple of miles, so the organisers decided it would be unfair on the Paralympic athletes, and probably impossible for the “wheelies”. So we all went down to the city centre to welcome the lads to the finish, but it was so crowded we were stood about 10 deep down the final couple of hundred metres or so. Never the less, we were pleased to hear the announcer call out MF’s name first as he sped down the finishing straight to claim his gold medal. This was soon followed by SB’s name, making it a glorious double for team GB. MB finished in a respectable time, and in a reasonably respectable position, considering the build up he had had.

As everyone had now finished it was time for serious partying to begin. We returned to the village, and despite the village being dry, it was amazing how many people had managed to smuggle in copious amounts of the falling down water. We all decided to go on masse down to the disco. We were having a great time and JW had been putting it away rather well. He was bursting for the toilet and so decided to go against a tree behind a bush on the side of the pavement. Having managed to turn the arid earth into a mud bath he then decided he would climb the tree. Half way up he suddenly realised he was a bit too drunk to do this, and after a violent struggle gravity finally mastered him and threw him to the earth. He hit the ground with a damp muddy splat. I don’t suppose it was the first, or come to think of it the last time, that JW laid in a pool of his own urine feeling a bit sore.

After JW had wiped himself down we went on our way to the disco. But RL was fed up with walking and decided that a different form of conveyance might be quicker, if a little more dangerous. RL had managed somehow to procure a bicycle from somewhere. The first we knew about it was as he shot past us on his transportation, flew across the road between screaming dodging athletes and straight towards the curb. The phrase arse over tit was developed for this specific moment in time, and whether he was drunk or not, he jumped back up as if nothing had happened. Undoubtedly he was used to hitting things at speed, so I don’t suppose he even felt it.

I found the disco a bit too noisy, too busy and too lacking in alcohol, so the following night I decided I would prefer to go into the city. There were too many of us to all get in one taxi, so we caught several. I ended up in a taxi with MF and CI. CI had been competing in the Cerebral Palsy sprints and was gagging for alcohol. She was very clever and specialised in languages. Although her cerebral palsy affected her speech quite badly once you had spent time with her it became quite easy to understand her. Unfortunately, our taxi driver had not had the opportunity to spend time with her. Therefore, we had the farcical situation of CI having to tell MF what to say in Spanish, and he tried his best to repeat it in his high pitched Wolverhampton drawl. Needless to say the driver didn’t have a clue. We ended up by resorting to “Ramblass, Ramblass”, where we managed to meet up with a couple of the others. It was just what I was looking for, a bit of street life, a few beers and some good conversation. It was all very continental and all very nice.

Events such as the Paralympics allowed us as disabled athletes to find out a bit more about other disabilities, and that night was one example. I couldn’t figure out whether I was getting more used to CI’s speech through the night, or whether I found it easier to understand her through increased alcohol levels. However, CI informed us that as her alcohol levels increased the tightness in her muscles in turn relaxed, which resulted in better coordination and better speech. She joked that a CP athlete would be much better taking alcohol than steroids as the effect is so noticeable. I also think it would be much more interesting to watch, especially if the other effects of alcohol were also replicated; fights would break out, the air would be blue with the language, by the end of the race everybody would love each other and be everybody else’s best mates, and everybody would either be being sick or dying for a kebab – pretty much like a run-of-the-mill middle distance race really.

The final act of the championships was the closing ceremony. We were all very excited about it, and had stashed a couple of beers about our person to help the party go with a swing. Unfortunately the organisers misread what would go down well with the crowd. They had put together a mixture of classical music and Spanish folk music. It was all really bad, so bad that even the local crowd was booing. The athletes, who were sat on chairs in the middle were quickly losing interest and were huddled in groups having a laugh, totally ignoring the music; some even started playing cards!

Eventually the music started to increase in tempo, people started to get to their feet and to enjoy themselves. I decided I wanted a bit of exercise, so myself and MF went onto the back straight and I lifted the little fella onto my shoulders before sprinting up and down the straight to the cheers of the crowd, MF giving me directions so as to not kill us both. After a while I started to tire and so we returned to the group of our friends.

The music was starting to get very loud, and I was struggling to hear what the people around me were saying. Somebody tugged at my arm and shouted something in my ear which seemed to have the word dance in it. As I thought the voice sounded feminine I immediately said yes and was immediately dragged off. However, it wasn’t the usual method of guiding. The person rather than giving me their elbow instead was pushing me from behind. I presumed it was either a person who didn’t know how to guide, or a blinky who was using me as a battering ram to make their way to the front of the stage. Occasionally I broke into a bit of a dance, swinging my legs from side to side and clapping my hands. I didn’t care if I looked a fool, I might never get to visit a closing ceremony again so I was buggered if I wasn’t going to enjoy it to the full.

I remember it seemed to be taking an absolute age to get to the dance area, but I was having so much fun I didn’t really mind. Occasionally I bumped into somebody so hard my straw panama nearly fell from my head, eventually, the person behind me stopped pushing me forward and sat me down on a seat. I thought that my guide must have been unable to locate the dance floor, but I found out much later, from my parents upon returning to England, that I had been leading a conga of some hundred or more people around the stadium. My mum and dad reported seeing my straw panama dodging in and out of the thousands of athletes about twice around the track before taking my seat again as if nothing unusual had happened. Typical I suppose. A full blown conga in flow and I’m the only one who didn’t manage to grab anyone’s arse.

We sat down just in time for the start of the fire work display. I could slightly make out bits of lights as the explosions lit up the sky for 20 minutes or so, but the real memory was the feeling of the blast hitting my chest. The fire works boomed in the sky, and my chest reverberated with every single explosion. Again I thought my hat was going to be knocked from my head, but again it held firm.

The fire works ended and the torch was handed on to Atlanta. At the time I didn’t know if I would make it, but I knew I would have great fun trying. And if I did get there, I would surely wreak my revenge!

We still had two days until we left for the airport and JW had other things on his mind. He must have been fed up with me because from leaving the village to go to the closing ceremony until getting on the plane I didn’t see sight nor sound of him. MF had to look after me for the final few days whilst JW took care of some unfinished business from Caen the previous year ….. JW also helped RM to pack his gear whilst I struggled manfully alone. Apparently he had been seconded in a part exchange deal; RM got JW, I got peace and quiet for a few days. I think I did rather well out of the deal!

Yorkshire TV had commissioned a documentary on the athletes competing at the games from the Yorkshire region. Having only lost my sight recently and having the relationship issue with JW our performances were featured heavily in their programme. Several of my friends were moved to tears when the programme was aired, although it concentrated too much on the human side of the championships rather than the sporting side of it for my liking.

There was some bad news however when I returned home from Barcelona. MD, who had done some guiding for me over the previous 18 months or so and had accompanied me to my first BBS UK Championships had been involved in an accident. I had known MD since I was 13 or 14, and trained in the same group as him since I was 15 or 16. As the story was repeated to me, whilst JW and I were winning medals in Barcelona, on his way to work on his motorbike one wet and windy morning, MD had been blown by the wind into the back of a stationery milk van. His left leg was badly damaged and his left arm paralysed. According to reports, at one point it was touch and go whether he’d pull through. I believe MD spent 12 weeks in Hull Royal Infirmary, during which time I visited him with my medals to cheer him up. I remember trying to lift his spirits by telling him that he now had the opportunity to become a Paralympian as well; little did I know that he would be so determined that he would end up qualifying for Atlanta.

When the award season came round I received an invite to the Yorkshire area sports awards which were held at the Harrogate International Conference Centre. We were treated to a very posh but very small lunch with a small amount of wine. The awards were to be given out by the secretary of the rugby football league DO. I can remember what he looked like as he always did the challenge cup draw on BBC Look North and he always wore what looked like a painted-on smile at all times. I always thought he looked like an awfully nice guy, but somewhat bemused by anything other than Rugby League. This impression was confirmed when I was asked to go up to collect an award for taking part and winning medals in Barcelona. JW led me up in the usual way, me holding onto his elbow and walking slightly behind him. When we got to the presentation area he grabbed JW’s hand and heartily congratulated him saying what an excellent athlete he was and how he should keep up the good work, etc. JW let him go on for about 30 seconds or so before he told him he had the wrong person, and in fact he should be saying all this to the lemon who was stood to his side holding his elbow.

All in all, the year was a brilliant one from a sporting point of view. I had returned home from a major championships with two silver medals in hand. I had received exposure on a local level, and I had received the plaudits of the award givers. However, I still had the feeling that I had only won relay medals, and as there were only four teams in each I had to question their worth. I suppose it was that which gave me the drive and desire to carry on and win medals of my own.

1992 Barcelona

1992: My first Paralympics, part V

When it came round to the 400 relay we were pleased to find out that there were to be no heats. Only four teams had eventually entered, so we really did fancy our chances. However, we still had to decide what the make up of the team was to be. The usual rules applied to team selections (no fewer than one B1, no more than one B3) but which B1 and which B3 was to be used? The team management, and the rest of the relay squad, were satisfied that I had proved my fitness, and as the fastest 400m B1 runner I was chosen. However, our fastest B3 runner, SB, had failed to finish his 400m final, pulling out after only 120m with a torn hamstring. The relays were also his only chance of a medal, so we were all a bit skeptical about his claims that there was nothing wrong with his hamstring. A meeting was called to air our feelings.

The rest of the team turned up at the meeting wanting AH to take SB’s place in the team. He wasn’t quite as fast, but he wasn’t injured either. It was a very tense meeting, was it better to ensure the virtual baton got around even if a bit slower, or to really go for it and risk the virtual baton not getting round at all?

We all had our say (even JW tried to vocalise his thoughts on the subject). The athletes who were assured of their places, namely myself, NT and MW, knew that if the baton got round we would win silver at least, and possibly gold. We didn’t want our chances ruining by SB if he said he was fit when in fact he wasn’t.

We all had our own ideas about what was going on inside his mind. SB had come to the championships as the favourite to win the 400m, but he had bombed out in that, so this was his only realistic chance of returning home with a gold medal. He had pulled out apparently with a hamstring tear. Some of the team suspected that it may be possible that the injury wasn’t as bad as he had made out, and wondered whether he had pulled out because he didn’t think he was going to win and opted instead to save himself for this shot at gold instead. If that was the case and he had admitted it I’m sure the team would have understood, We might have thought a bit less of him, but we would have had no concerns about putting him in the team. But SB wasn’t stating that. He stated his muscle had torn, but that he was now better. We found this difficult to accept but as SB was prepared for a fight he had gathered medical opinion and advice to support his case. The other problem was that we all knew that SB sometimes had greater belief in his abilities than was actually the case, which isn’t a bad thing for an elite athlete, so what he said had to be taken with a pinch of salt. The one nagging doubt was that he had nothing to lose, and there was a possibility that he was too proud to admit that he wasn’t up to it. More frighteningly, we thought he was being reckless in risking our medal shot. In the end, after a very uncomfortable hour or so, we had to accept that it was his dream and not ours alone, and so, begrudgingly, he was in. We just prayed he was right in his confidence.

When the race came round we all warmed up together as a team. MW’s warm up consisted largely of sitting around and theorising, SB’s involved looking cool, NT’s involved jogging around a lot but doing nothing really at speed, whilst mine involved getting psyched up to such an extent that NT was scared by my race face, never mind the opponents.

We had concerns about the changeovers before the race. The problem was that the changeover zone was 20m long, which meant that with all the noise of the partisan crowd it would be impossible for the incoming runner to make himself heard by the outgoing runner when he hit the changeover zone. Therefore, KA had decided he would stand on the infield and provide the calls that were necessary. There certainly would be no chance of 70,000 Spaniards drowning KA’s shouts out.

I was to run the first leg, and despite mild fears surrounding my injury I did a reasonable job. I had set off a little bit more conservatively than usual, and despite fading somewhat in the home straight, I handed over to MW only 5 metres behind the Spanish. However, as he left the changeover box we were more than 10 metres behind them.

MW ran a stormer and closed to only a couple of metres behind the Spanish athlete at the end of his leg. However, despite us executing the changeover perfectly the Spanish team again exited the zone with a 10m lead.

SB’s hamstring held out well and he also ran a screamer, again closing up on the Spanish athlete, giving NT a real chance on the last leg. But surprise, surprise, the Spanish team left the box with another massive lead on NT. Despite his best efforts he couldn’t close enough. The Spanish went crazy, and we went mad. We immediately placed an appeal with the judges asking them to check the changeovers. I don’t know why we bothered though. Almost immediately the judges came back to us saying that the video tape had been lost, so we were stuffed. In the end we had to settle for a silver when we deserved gold. It was suggested by some that KA must have got the calls wrong, but as anyone will testify who knows KA, KA doesn’t get things wrong. To coin a phrase, we was robbed.

4X400 scoreboard Barca 1992

4X400 podium Barca 1992

After spending a joyful half hour with my parents and JW, the team, guides and coaches returned to the village and planned our celebrations. Being the party animals that myself and JW were, we escaped down to the Pizza Hut that was just outside the village on the beach and drank ourselves silly – well, we had half a lager, but everything is relevant – and stuffed our faces with a whole pizza each. JW really went for it though after he had escorted me back to my bed. When we returned to the village he found RL wondering around in the mood for partying. They decided to go into Barcelona for a drink or two. They had every intention of getting a taxi into the centre of the city, but decided instead to accept a lift in a van with a group of Spanish Rastafarians. They couldn’t speak any English, but they understood the lads were looking to party. They took them to a club in the city. JW said that when they got into the club they were greeted by full size stuffed lions and other such jungle accompaniments. He soon realised that he and RL were the only English people in the club, and for that matter, they were the only white people in the club. All eyes were trained on them as they drank exotic drinks, danced exotic dances choreographed mainly in Liverpool, and smelled exotic plant based smells. A great time was had by them if the state they returned in was anything to go by, and I was content just cuddling my silver medal whilst tucked up safely in my bed. I still had another race to do, then I would party.

Our last race was the 4 x 100m relay. I was really excited. I had won the medal that I had longed for, and now my leg was starting to get so much better that I didn’t even think about it now. The warm up was still the same routine of strapping up and extensive massage, but I didn’t have any doubts about my ability to finish the race, and I was even able to do some flat out sprints in my warm up. We found out fairly early on again that there would only be four teams entered, so we had a great chance of getting another medal. We knew that the Spanish were going to be nearly impossible to beat, but we were not sure about the others. The Italians and the Americans were a bit of a mixture of really outstanding sprinters and outstanding athletes who weren’t necessarily outstanding sprinters, so it could just be possible, despite the diverse nature of our team, that we might snatch some more hardware.
JW was very excited as well, but not for the same reasons. KR, an experienced part of the management team, had repeatedly told JW about the famous guide runner relays which always traditionally occurred at the end of each championships. JW had at every opportunity asked the guides from the other countries how fast they could do the 400m. He really did think he was the fastest athlete there and just couldn’t wait for the opportunity to prove it. He had decided that he was going to do the last leg for the GB guides team, and I think he was secretly hoping to take the baton in an unpromising position before snatching victory from the jaws of defeat with a scintillating final leg. I’m sure when he visualised this he could hear 70,000 people cheering his super-human feat as he crossed the line, arms aloft soaking up the plaudits. He would have to wait though until after our 100m relay which was the last official track event of the championship.

When we arrived at the warm up track we headed for the drinks tent to fill our bags up with the free drinks as it was very warm and dehydration was always an issue. I chose several bottles of water and a couple of the branded sports drinks. We took our booty off to the side of the track and laid back in the shade until it was time to start warming up. I took out a bottle of sports drink and was just about to break the seal on it and drain the contents when JW shouted out “stop”. I wasn’t sure what JW was on about, but that wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, but I chose to stop anyway. JW grabbed the bottle and held it up to his face. He burst out laughing and everybody gathered round to see what he was looking at. The sight which had grabbed his attention was a small lizard which was floating in it, as if pickled in a laboratory. The younger Andy thought what a good job it was that he hadn’t opened the bottle and drank it, but the older Andy now thinks what an opportunity missed – probably one of the biggest brands in the world’s products with such a foreign body in it. It would make the Donahue v Stevenson case (the famous snail in a ginger beer bottle which laid down the modern law of negligence) look like a storm in a tea cup.

It was the sort of thing which increased the sense of fun within the team, and as we took up our positions on the track, anticipation of what might be started to rise in my stomach. Whatever happened on the track, we only had a couple of hours to wait until we would party like never before. We had been drawn in lane 1, and I wasn’t looking forward to trying to cope with the tight bend, dodgy hamstring or no dodgy hamstring. The crowd was buzzing, they were well aware that it was the last race and the home team were the favourites to win. It had been a great championship, especially for the Spanish, and they were going to enjoy this last race. Random people kept calling out from the stands, “come on Curtis, give it some welly” in a broad Yorkshire accent and “go for it Andy” in an Aussie voice were just a couple of the calls I heard on my way to our starting position. I couldn’t wait to blast around that bend.

BR ran the first leg, and from the little bit of commentary JW could manage before we had to take up our position he thought he was doing alright, we certainly weren’t leading, but we weren’t completely out of contention either. The second leg runner was RL. He had been in and out of the medical room all the championship, but now came his chance to bring home the bacon. He had damaged his hamstring at the start of the championships, but had recovered from that, only to suffer from one of his usual self inflicted injuries. This had happened in the long jump. RL would take up his position on the run way and his caller would stand behind the pit and call him towards the pit by means of a mega phone. RL would set off sprinting, arms and legs flailing in different directions, a vision of ginger frenzy, trying his best to keep count of how many strides he had taken. The only problem with this was that RL insisted on counting every single stride. I had always counted every second stride on my left leg whenever I ran so that I would know exactly where I was on the track, but RL was too old a dog to be taught new tricks. The result was that RL often miscounted. Take off at the right time and, as long as he got the direction right, he would land in the pit with a good distance. Take off too late and he would have already reached the pit, maybe even trip over as his feet lost traction in the sand. However, RL’s default take off position was two strides before the take off board. This would result in RL flying through the air with all the grace he could summon up before executing the perfect landing on the hard run way. Scraped and burnt arse cheeks were the order of the day on such occasions, and Barcelona was one such occasion.

However, his cheeks had recovered to such an extent so as to allow him to take his place in the team. I no longer felt sorry for him, it was his guide that I now felt sorry for. One of the staff, a scot attached to the cerebral palsy team, had been drafted in to guide RL. RL was a law unto himself when it came to guiding. The usual practice is to try and run as one, to be perfectly synchronised so as to increase bio-mechanical efficiency. But RL always used to run as if tied to a prison officer from whom he was trying to escape. That was the case on that night, but despite his best efforts his guide managed to keep him in his two allotted lanes and eventually, after what seemed like an age I heard the call which set me on my way.

I had already heard loads of shouting, some what seemed like an age earlier, which signified that all the other teams had set off ahead of me. I guessed we were quite a way behind in last place, but I also knew that two of the other three teams had put their slowest runners on the third leg. I also knew that those two teams had put their fastest runners on the last leg, so I really did have to run the leg of my life if MW, who was to run the last leg, was to have the slightest glimmer of hope.

As I charged around the bend it seemed that my arms and legs were moving faster than they had ever moved. I could feel JW struggling to move his arms as fast as mine, which encouraged me even more. If he couldn’t keep up with me I really must be flying. The crowd were getting louder and louder, presumably because the Spanish were winning, but I drew on this imagining that they were cheering for me, the best third leg they had ever seen. With the added confidence I flew around the bend. As I neared the changeover zone I could tell from the shouts around me that I had moved us into second place, ahead of the Yanks and the Italians.

As soon as JW had given MW the call he started to congratulate me on my leg. I slowed down a bit, but carried on running down the track after MW. I wanted to be there at the celebrations. I asked JW how we were doing. After what seemed like an age he replied that he couldn’t tell exactly, but he thought that we were definitely in second place, but his demeanour didn’t match this statement.

I didn’t care though, I had already started celebrating as we ran down the home straight. We crossed the line and JW took me to MW. I jumped on MW’s back shouting and cheering about another silver medal. He said that he wasn’t too sure, but I said that JW said we were definitely in second. But JW was busy staring up at the big screen. I was the only one celebrating. MW had joined JW asking him what he could see on the screen, but I was still cheering about winning another silver.

Eventually after 30 seconds or so they started to cheer “yes, silver!” I wondered what they were on about, I knew we’d won silver ages ago, so why the confusion? Apparently, JW, who never was that good at counting, had meant that we were definitely in third place, not second, being confused by the fact that the Spanish team were miles clear of everybody else (more than two seconds in fact). We had in the end managed to beat the USA team by 0.06 secs. MW had run a stormer to not only hold off the Americans, but also AM of Italy, the fastest blinky athlete at the champs, which was an amazing feat in itself.

I was still whooping and yelping like a demented idiot and grabbed JW and MW who had now started to get excited as well. As they had finished ages before everyone else, and didn’t have to wait for a photo finish, the Spanish athletes were nowhere to be seen (pardon the pun) so we were unable to congratulate them. We had deduced that the Spanish had already set off on their lap of honour. What a good idea I thought. Who cares that we had only finished second, it was the last race after all. By now BR and RL plus guide had joined us. The Spanish, if the cheers were anything to go by, were already down the back straight, so we wouldn’t be gate crashing their party. I suggested a lap of honour and they followed. I jumped on JW’s back and off we went piggy backing around the bend. The crowd were going crazy celebrating the Spanish gold but when we passed their clapping, which had died down as the Spanish disappeared around the track, started to increase again. They cheered us on, and my sense of achievement swelled to bursting point. By the time we entered the home straight we were all cheering and waving like we’ve never waved and cheered before, and the crowd were responding in a similar fashion. It wasn’t just polite applause, they seemed genuinely to be saluting us.

I decided to take the bull by the horns as I wasn’t likely to get such an opportunity to do this again for a while. I slowed down and waited for the others to catch up. I got them to line up in front of the packed main stand. When we were all lined up I counted down “three, two, one” and then we bowed to the cheering crowd. They cheered even louder and it really did make the championships for me. Although I couldn’t see the crowd, the sheer volume of their cheering and clapping was more than enough to cement the memory in my mind forever.

4X100 score 1992 Barca.jpeg

4X100 podium Barca 1992

We had the formality of the medal ceremony to get through before we could start to party. Never one to miss the opportunity to hum loudly along to the Spanish national anthem, I heartily joined in with the tune, which was fast becoming one of my favourites. During the ceremony, JW leant over to RL and told him that the person giving him the medal was a most attractive scantily clad glamour girl. RL did as expected and grabbed her for a kiss: he was soon spitting after kissing the bearded medal bearing dignitary on the lips.

As soon as we had exited stage left JW dumped me in order to go and pursue his dream in front of the over excited capacity crowd. However, things didn’t go exactly to plan. When they walked onto the track in their Great Britain kit JW and his fellow guide runners were not greeted by the applause that they were expecting, but instead all they heard was the sound of thousands of plastic seats slapping back into position and the footfall of thousands of hungry Spaniards. When the gun went it was clear that JW’s plan to receive the baton in an unpromising position was working, but unfortunately for JW it was working a bit too well. Instead of receiving the baton 30m or 40m behind his competitors JW ended up taking the baton 80m or 90m behind them. Although JW ran a really fast leg he still ended up trailing in last some 60m or so behind the others. I believe a couple of stragglers put their hands together in polite applause, but it wasn’t exactly the resounding ovation he was hoping for.

1992:my first Paralympics, part IV

Eventually the first race came around. It was the 200m heats. My warm up was easy. I hobbled from the bus to the physio tent, where NB did everything for me. He firstly loosened up the muscles and warmed them up. Then, as I laid on my front, he made like he was pulling a pint of beer with my ankle, pressing his other hand into my hamstring at various points. After this he strapped me up. Self-adhesive bandages were applied from half way down my calf to the top of my butt cheek. A bit more stretching was followed by my instructions. I was to go into the warm up area and steadily walk around. If I really wanted to I could do a couple of light strides, but nothing more than that. I followed his instructions, but my heart sank when I tried to stride and found that I couldn’t get out of a jog without feeling like I was in the middle of a cramp attack. My nerves were under control, after all, I had other things to think of. My mind wasn’t full of the usual competitive urges, just a fear that I wouldn’t be able to run at all.

Despite not having the usual pre-race nerves because of my injury, I still needed the toilet as much as usual. That proved to be a bit of a problem. What with all the bandages and my figure hugging all-in-one lycra bodysuit, I was well and truly wrapped up, meaning that I have to perform Houdini-esque manoeuvres just to relieve myself. JW helped me out, literally, and at least his hands were warm and it took my mind off my injury for a while.

I kept on the move until we were called out onto the track. As we walked out I could sense the high stands crammed full of excited spectators, and I could hear the buzz of expectancy. The excitement levels were heightened, not by the sight of me or JW, but by the new Spanish wonder kid, ES who was also in my heat. But I couldn’t enjoy the moment as I was so concerned with my fitness.

That was the first time that JW had been under pressure to get the blocks sorted out quickly, and he found it stressful. Before we had time to sort ourselves out we were called to our marks. Shortly we were in the set position and waiting for the gun to sound. All my competitive urges were suddenly in place. My injury was at the back of my mind. The gun exploded, and JW and I blasted out of our blocks.

The noise was amazing. It was early in the morning and the stands were nearly full. I couldn’t hear a word JW was saying. A series of grunts were interpreted as his usual calls which told me we were about to enter the straight. It wasn’t until this time that my hamstring started to feel tight. However, once it started to feel tight it didn’t take long for it to almost seize up altogether. I staggered down the last 50 metres or so towards the line, almost unable to lift my injured leg. My start had been good enough to hold off all but one of the closing pack, including ES, and I was through to the semi-final. Much to my surprise, I had only been beaten by 0.12 secs and my time of 24.96 secs, a personal best at the time, was the fifth fastest time of the heats. I hobbled off the track and back to the physio tent. Not bad for one and a half legs I thought.

When the semi-final came around my routine was exactly the same, except this time I knew it would be fine once the adrenalin started to pump as I blasted out of the blocks, so I wasn’t too bothered when again I couldn’t do any warm up strides. However, although I ran a great bend again, it wasn’t enough to carry me through to the final when my leg tightened in the closing stages. I had finished sixth overall and considering the obstacles I had overcome I was quite satisfied with my performance. The final was won by CL of Portugal, JR of Spain finished second and DC of Australia finished third. I would have run ins with all three of these guys in the future, and several with both CL and JR.

I had a day’s rest before the 400m heats started and so my hamstring had a bit more time to heal. Again I let NB do my warm up for me. I was starting to get used to having to do nothing. If only I could find somebody to do the racing for me I would be sorted. I have previously described the pre-race nerves I had before 400m races, and these again surfaced mainly due to the fact that I was scared that my lack of condition would have serious consequences towards the latter stages of the race. JW tried to convince me that I’d be fine, but I didn’t believe him. As I had already been through the race procedure twice I was well aware that there was no area which was suitable for being sick. A plastic bag was found and strategically placed in my kit bag so that it was easy to find should the need arise. JW, never having made himself sick from running, insisted that I wouldn’t need it if only I concentrated hard enough.

As we set off I found it difficult to set the correct pace. I tried to settle on what felt like a fairly even pace, but as all I had done for a week was flat out sprinting I went off a bit too fast. After about 80m around the bend I eased off the pace and settled on what was probably the correct pace. I usually managed to tell how I was doing in the race by listening to the foot fall around me, but this was difficult due to the noise emanating from the crowded stands. By the time we were rounding the last bend the crowd had started to make lots of noise. It was so noisy that I couldn’t hear what JW was saying, never mind where my competitors were. All I knew was that he was making lots of noise and getting rather excited. The home straight was as usual agony. I was starting to pay for the fast early pace, and the lack of condition in my legs was starting to show. I summoned up every last bit of energy and struggled through to the line.

The noise from the crowd had started to diminish before I reached the finishing line, which didn’t fill me with confidence. I assumed that the winner had crossed the line a long time before I had. As I stood with my hands on my knees gasping for air, the clock at the finishing line burst into action. It was the usual type of clock, but it also spoke out the winning time. “55.54 seconds” it announced. A sinking feeling hit me. That was a fairly average time, and if that was the winning time mine must be terrible. “Who ran that?” I asked JW.
“You did” he replied. “You won it by a mile!” JW had struck again. No chance of him letting me take it easy and conserving energy. It was as if he was on a quest to kill me by the end of the champs. JW was so excited and wanted to show off. “Come on, let’s do a bit of a jog and wave to the crowd” he shouted excitedly. What planet was this guy on? When had I ever had enough energy to do anything apart from stagger to the edge of the track after a 400m? I could feel the volcano about to erupt in my stomach as well.

“Get me off the track” I managed to say between my gasps for air whilst I held out the guide rope.

“No, come on” he said as he grabbed the rope and held my arm in the air and tried dragging me along the track. Expletives shot out of my mouth and he eventually got the message.

It seemed to take an eternity to walk through the mixed zone, the area where the media hang out trying to get interviews and quotes, and into the changing room. JW sat me down and started to work the room, chatting to all the other guide runners in broken English and sign language, and that was just JW. I kept calling his name, but he wasn’t listening. Eventually he heard me when I shouted as loud as I could and he asked me what the matter was. I told him I needed the plastic bag. He had just managed to get it out when I started yodelling. A couple of minutes later I had finished my post-race routine. Whilst I approached the final throws of my performance a Colombian athlete had started shouting “champiole, champiole,” and had tried to grab me. His guide runner dragged him away from me. He was audibly concerned that he had done something wrong, and as his guide runner tried to explain to him why he had dragged me away JW took it on himself to grab the now partly full bag and hand it to the athlete as proof of what his guide runner was telling him. I can still picture it now as JW described it. The blind Colombian held the bag out and tried to judge its weight, before putting his hand under it to try and assess its contents. He then looked at his guide runner and asked what it was. His guide runner explained before both he and JW burst out laughing, leaving the athlete swearing loudly.

The semi-final of the 400m was a strange affair. I was drawn with a Cuban athlete, OP, who had a rather strange guiding technique. His technique was a revolutionary one…He didn’t have one. According to rumour he suffered from hysterical blindness, whatever that means. His guide runner ran about 5 metres behind him, allegedly shouting out instructions to him from that position. That may have worked in a quiet stadium, although I doubt it, but definitely not in a stadium packed with 60,000 shouting Spaniards. I couldn’t hear what JW was shouting whilst standing next to me, never mind if he stood 5 metres behind me. Apparently it was even better in the 800m, where he overtook athletes and returned to running next to the curb as if fully sighted. This guy turned out to be solely responsible for the authorities introducing blind folds or blacked out shades for B1 athletes to prevent cheating in all subsequent championships.

The race itself went very well until the last 60m. I was leading at that point, but then faded badly into third place. The time was very similar to that which I had ran in the heat, but not quite good enough on that occasion. But the most surprising fact was that I managed to keep down what little lunch I had managed to eat that day. CL of Portugal went on to win the final, OP of Cuba winning a controversial silver medal, with DC of Australia winning a second bronze medal.

I was supposed to run the 100m the following day, but it was also the day when the 4 x 400m heats were to be run. There were a couple of important decisions to be made regarding this event. Firstly, I had to decide along with the management whether or not I would compete In the 100m. Secondly, we had to finalise the makeup of the relay team, as our fastest runner, SB, had been struggling with a hamstring injury as well. I felt that although I may run well in the 100m I didn’t really stand a chance of winning a medal. However, if we managed to finish the 4 x 400m relay we would definitely win a medal, and there was a distinct possibility that we would win gold. If I was to run the 100m there was a possibility that I would make my hamstring worse, and that would mean that I would be out of the 400 relay for sure. As my Aussie competitors would say, it was a no brainer. My withdrawal from the 100m was signed by the team doctor on the grounds that it couldn’t stand up to a flat out blocks start. It was also noted that I should be able to stand up to a steadier start, which cleared the way for me to compete in the relay without suffering a sanction. The wording was vital, as withdrawing from an event without good reason usually results in withdrawal from the rest of the championships, and that was a consequence which I could not risk.

As it happened the 100m was a very good spectacle for the spectators. At that time 100m races for B1’s were run as a time trial, each athlete running individually against the clock. The main reason for this was so as to allow those athletes who didn’t have a guide runner to compete. As a rule, it was the athletes from the less developed countries who did not have guide runners, but the world record holder, SS, a Russian, also chose to run this way. I could never do it, but he was so brilliant at it that he never strayed out of his lane the whole way down. I put this brilliance down to a great deal of practice, but others more cynical than I commented that he ran as if he could see a bit. Interestingly, whilst SS was brilliant in the unguided 100m, he was less than impressive at the guided 200m and when all 100m races became guided-only races, he was less than impressive at that as well.

After all athletes had run once, the fastest 6 athletes got the chance to race again in the final. When the final came around two athletes, SS and MR of Spain, dead heated on the same time. If it had been a real race it would have been a thriller. The only way they could settle it was to have a run off with both athletes having another go. Dismaying everyone in the stadium they managed to run exactly the same time again – what are the chances??!! As no-one wanted to be there all night two gold medals were eventually handed out. My long term rival, JR of Spain won the bronze medal.
The stage was now clear for the 4×400 relay boys to do their thing