BT Storytellers: A Day at the BT Paralympic World Cup Athletics
For the past 10 months, BT Storytellers has been a portal for the 100 chosen storytellers and ambassadors to tell their side of the London 2012 story. There are artists, performers, videographers, photographers, bloggers, creative writers and social media gurus all vying to tell their tale alongside the games and the lead up to the athletic spectacle. Once again I find myself in the lucky position to tell another bit of my story, another opportunity afforded me by the fantastic BT Storytellers Team.
This mini-adventure saw me on a train (or three) on my way to Manchester to witness and capture the athletics competition of the BT Paralympic World Cup on Tuesday, May 22. (Every single time I hear the name Manchester, I can’t help but sing the song ‘Manchester England, England, Across the Atlantic Sea.’ No you probably don’t know it unless you are familiar with the musical ‘Hair’. I’m hoping that typing it out here will help me to exercise this particular demon, but I’m guessing not.) As part of my trip, I was lucky enough to have been given a hotel room for the night before the event. This made the trip so much easier, as otherwise it would have been about 12 hours of travel in a single day, which would have been pretty hard going.
It was a pretty uneventful trip, but full of anticipation. Even though I didn’t get into my destination until 00:30 (hotel by 01:00) I was still unable to fall asleep until about 4 due to a rush of adrenaline that just wouldn’t allow me to settle. The next morning after a limited breakfast (but it was free so I’m not complaining) I set off on the walk to the arena. Yes, I could have jumped in a taxi for about 5 quid, but I wanted to get the blood moving before I got to the event. (And the weather had not yet turned the area into an oven, so it was a beautiful walk.)
Beginning about 1/4 mile from the arena I began to be able to see the tall spires of the Man City Stadium which is directly adjacent to the Sportcity Regional Arena, where the BT Paralympic World Cup was being held. It was easy to find my destination, even though I’d never been anywhere near this place before. The Man City/Etihad Stadium is enormous and shows it’s sky blue and white team colours with pride. When I walked around the side of the stadium it was quite clear where the athletics events would take place as there’s a smaller arena which is impressive in it’s own right. The infield marked out for the seated javelin and discus, surrounded by the track with perfect lines marking the lanes for the sprinters and long distance wheelchair racers. The media and press representatives had already begun to gather at 10:00 when I arrived and joined my fellow photographers in the squash court turned media centre. After a quick overview by Sally, our photography coordinator, we were taken on a tour of the arena (to make sure we knew where to go and how to stay out-of-the-way of the javelins, sprinters and cameras from Channel 4 who were covering the event as if it were going out live to the nation.)
Just before noon we were able to take our places in the media pen. By take our places, of course I mean stake my claim in the best place to grab a great view of both the finish line and the medals stand. Starting promptly at 12:00 we had opening statements and then the first racers lined up at the opposite end of the straightaway from the finish line where we were located and then came the calls, “On your marks, Set,” (And yes, I did jump EVERY time that pistol went off, especially during the 400′s and 800m when they started right next to the pen.)
The first race, the T36 100m was over in seconds and they couldn’t have started with a better race. The winner of the race, Graeme Ballard was so full of energy and joy that he was glowing. As he was being interviewed before the medals ceremony, he also heard that he had broken the world record with his time of 11.98 seconds. He was so overjoyed, and you can see it in his face (see photo below). I had tears in my eyes as I watched him give his first interview of the day to Clare Balding and Channel 4. Graeme seemed to be so full of life and looked as though he could just go again for another race if given the opportunity.
Race after race, the athletes warmed up, lined up, set off to break records and pushed through to the finish line. Each and every one of these athletes has their own moving and inspiring story of a life made up of difficult and often positive choices to overcome challenges that they face with incredible verve that could inspire anyone who takes the time to get to listen.
Although I enjoyed watching all the races, there were two athletes in particular that I was looking forward to seeing the most leading up to the event, they were Hannah Cockroft and Oscar Pistorius.
Hannah Cockroft, the 19-year-old British Double World Champion and World Record Holder, showed up on the day and did not disappoint. She won her race (the T34 Women’s 100m Wheelchair sprint) in 19.46 seconds.
It was such an honour to meet Hannah after the days events concluded. I have to say she seems like a really laid back lady, who loves her sport and takes pride in a job very well done. She was especially happy that the sun decided to shine down on us on the day, as she definitely remembered the downpour during this same competition the year before. Here are a few photos of Hannah on the day. The first is Hannah (in lane 6, 3rd from the left) and her competitors toward the end of the race as she was about to cross the finish line. The second photo is Hannah in the center with her gold medal with Jemaa Yousra Ben (TUN) who won silver and Haruka Kitaura (JPN) who brought home the bronze in the same event.
The other world-class athlete that I was looking forward to seeing on the day was Oscar Pistorius, the world-famous South African sprinter, also known as the ‘Blade Runner’ or ‘the fastest man on no legs.’
It was fantastic to be watch Oscar run in person. He is so graceful both when he runs and even when he’s standing still on his prosthetic ‘blades’. I thought that it was amazing how light he looked on them as he was giving interviews to the media. The only thing that I can compare it to is a ballet dancer with agile, gentle steps.
I was in awe of his running during the sprint when he was several lengths ahead of the rest of the field and turned the final corner alone. You can see how far ahead of his competitors he was as he finished the race in the first photo of him below. The second photo was taken as Oscar was pinned against the side of the media pen when the next race started and he wanted to stay out-of-the-way.
We were blessed with glorious sunshine for the entire event, which I’m told is a change from last year when it rained constantly the entire day.
But even in the bright sunlight, it was the athletes who really shone in the arena that day.
To top off a very special day, for me it ended with a phone call to Laurie Hanna from the Daily Mirror who interviewed me for a piece in the newspaper (added below). I wasn’t totally sure what to expect when Stephanie asked me if I wanted to be involved in the special monthly article that they’ve done with the Mirror where they showcase one athlete and one Storyteller a month. I was so surprised to find that it wasn’t my photography but ME to be featured in the nationally circulated paper alongside the amazingly talented Hannah Cockroft. Just an amazing surprise.
I couldn’t have asked for a better experience (except maybe a few clouds to block out some of the glaring sun to give us a bit of a break on the day). Thanks again to the BT Storytellers crew, especially Stephanie, Caroline and Jasmine who helped to make the day as special for me as it was. Also, thanks to Clive for being my partner in crime on the day and for helping to keep me on my toes when the sun was at its hottest and for reminding me to drink water in all the excitement.
If you’d like to see my addition to the BT Storytellers page please visit: http://www.btlondon2012.co.uk/storytellers
If you’d like to see the full set of photos from the day go to: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjzyKy8d
For the set of Hannah Cockroft photos please visit: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjzyNGpU
And for the full set of Oscar Pistorius photos go to: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjzyMsjS
Thanks for stopping by and I hope you have an amazing day and enjoy London 2012!!