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

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