Paralympic Blog

Otherwise known as 'Further Adventures at Greenwich Park' Ha ha!!

Wednesday 29th August 2012

Back at Greenwich Park in preparation for the Paralympics!  I had an early shift today, so I came back up to London last night and set my alarm for 4.30am.  A bit of a difference to just two weeks ago as I walked to the venue in the dark - it didn't feel like morning at all!  So good to see team members again - although only a few of us in today - and two newbies joined our team as well.

A few changes made to the venue for the Paralympics, but it looks very much the same as before.  A few more ramps here and there (and a new department - prosthetic replacement or repair - didn't have that at the Olympics!!!).  I believe the arena capacity is now going to be 10,000 rather than 20,000 but it will still be the largest Paralympian equestrian arena EVER and the horses will have to cope with an electric atmosphere like they have never known before...  I hope the riders are able to contain them.  A few at the vet inspection today were doing airs above the ground even in an almost empty arena!


It was very quiet at workforce check-in today.  Because competition doesn't start until tomorrow, today was mainly about the vet checks and a rehersal for the field of play team.  We were asked to go to the arena to watch the horse inspections in order for the horses to get used to people in the stands - we were only to happy to oblige!  The GB horses were all well behaved and passed the vet without issue.  Some other horses gave their grooms a hard time cavorting around.  One black and white gypsy cob type was really going for it, bucking, jumping in circles and dragging the handler to and fro!  Some warmbloods were standing around looking down their noses at him... I swear some of them then behaved even more impeccably as if to say 'riff raff'...!  A couple of horses were sent to the holding box as clearly not right.  One was cleared after further vet checks but one is being re-examined tomorrow morning before being passed fit to compete.  There are so many vets here (some paid staff, but many of them volunteers), I expect they will be relishing the chance to do a lameness assessment - it's been pretty quiet here for the vets so they'll be glad of something to do...!

I managed to watch (from a distance!) Lee Pearson working his horse Gentleman when I was on my way out of the park this afternoon.  I think some of the other british riders were in the same arena, but I was a bit far off to see properly.  I only knew it was Lee because he has a distinctive riding style!  I'm really looking forward to being impressed and inspired by what these riders can do.  Go Team GB!!


Saturday 1st September 2012

After a couple of days off I'm back in Greenwich right up until the close of the equestrian competition on Tuesday.  A fantastic morning with a gold medal for Natasha Baker and a really close competition this afternoon and some very deserving medallists.  It was very nailbiting and a shame for Lee Pearson that it was only (!) a silver, but when you consider the year he has had, recovering from a broken back after a fall from his horse, a silver medal at the Paralympics is amazing!  And,of course, the team result is decided tomorrow and another individual chance for him on Monday when he competes in the freestyle.

As you've probably realised by now, most of the action here happens after the competition day is over - in the pub!  Myself and Vicky, a member of my team, went to the Gold & Saddle for a glass of wine after work.  We met gold, silver and bronze medallists and had close ups of all the medals.  Natasha Baker was so happy to be showing off her medal - pure joy!  Pepo Puch of Austria, who was the bronze medalist in Lee Pearson's class, arrived with his team wearing traditional Austrian outfits.  They clearly have a good sense of humour and as all the Paralympians know each other well, good natured banter was all around.  Pepo was so pleased with his medal.  The scores in his class were sooooo close that it really could have gone any way with the top three and I think they all know that.  He also has a good chance of a gold in the freestyle, but both he and Lee will have to raise their game to beat the Australian as she thoroughly deserved her gold today.

Lee Pearson was also in the pub and did a huge amount of networking! He is a lovely guy and spent time with everybody having photos taken and chatting.  During his victory ceremony today he looked overwhelmed by the support of the crowd and spent much of his time acknowledging everyone during and after the ceremony.  He actually made his way around much of the arena on his sticks to thank everyone.  He kindly posed for a photo with myself and Vicky and showed off his silver medal. Natalie & Pepe

Hopefully it will be another good day tomorrow - four gold medals up for grabs.  Fingers crossed for team GB!


Sunday 2nd September 2012

A Golden day at Greenwich park!  Well - not so much with the weather, which was rather damp and dismal in the morning - but an exciting and rewarding day of sport.  Sophie Wells was unlucky to miss out on the gold in her class.  If not for the mistake I think she would have clinched it, but it would have been very close.  When Deb Criddle also got the silver in the first afternoon session it seemed as if GB were going to suffer from 'seconditis', but the afternoon got better and better.

I had a busy morning working, including a lot of office based stuff and producing a final competition for the volunteers.  I was lucky enough to be given two free tickets for this afternoons sessions, so Paul came up to London to experience the Paralympics and we spent the time soaking up the arena atmosphere and watching the dressage.  It was so lovely to share that with him.  No seat numbers given on tickets for the Para's, so you just find anywhere that's free.  We moved around a bit in each break as I wanted to show him the various views - some angles better for watching the competition, but he couldn't miss out on sitting high in the south stand and admiring the fantastic view of the London skyline!  We had a fab time.

The competition was amazing and I was astounded by the standard of the grade III athletes.  Most of these are missing one or two limbs, or are paralysed in some way, so significant issues to deal with!  Despite this, they ride an elementary level dressage test including shoulder in, turn on the haunches, medium trot & canter and incredibly balanced, flowing working paces with soft, supple horses.  Yes, there were a few tests a little below the standard, but you'd see that at any BD competition anywhere!  I am going to try to remember in future, when a movement doesn't go quite right, how that must feel when only trying it with one leg instead of two!  Can you imagine riding shoulder-in without an inside leg?  Apologies to any of my non-horsey friends reading this who don't have a clue what I'm going on about, but to teach a horse to respond to shoulder-in aids without an leg on one side would be like trying to push your car uphill, sideways!  Anyway, you get the idea!  Completely inspirational. Our GB rider Deb Criddle was first to go in this class and was beaten into silver by a fabulous test from a German rider who was a few points clear despite going wrong in the test twice.

Gold 1aA short break then the grade 1a riders, who are the most disabled.  Most of them have cerebral palsy, or muscular distrophy or similar, even a couple of riders who are paralysed from chest down and are strapped into the saddle.  All these athletes have balance issues so the test is conducted completely in walk, but I have to say is no less spellbinding or inspirational.  Once again GB were drawn first to go and Sophie Christiansen rode the most sublime test on a beautiful horse.  She scored over 80% and I wouldn't be surprised to see a couple of 10's on her score sheet.  Any of you competing at dressage - when is the last time you received a 10 for your walk or halt?  I take my hat off to her.  Honestly, not a dry eye in the house when she finished - even made Paul emotional.  Very special moment.  Sophie led from the front and won by a large margin for a well deserved gold medal.  Even better, our results today with two silvers and a gold meant that we had also won the team competition, so another gold!  This will be presented on Tuesday so I'm definitely staying for that!

We finished off our lovely day by having a drink in the Gold & Saddle (of course!) and a meal in Noodle Time.  Paul managed to see a number of our Para Equestrian medal winners in the flesh, including Lee Pearson in the pub, and got the late train home.  He has an early start for work in the morning so won't get much sleep, but hopefully he will still feel it was worth it!!!


Monday 3rd September 2012

A lazy morning for me today as on a late shift, but I kept an eye on the dressage competition all morning and got to Greenwich Park in time to Natalie Baker goldwatch Natalie Baker's Grade II freestyle test before work.  She did an absolutely amazing job, blew the opposition out of the water and collected her second gold medal.  I watched some of the Grade 1b freestyle this afternoon - totally awesome - in a very hot East Stand.  What a fantastic September day - it was so hot that the majority of the spectators moved to the West Stand by mid-afternoon to be in the shade.  Once again I was so impressed by the quality of the dressage by the top competitors.  I thought that Lee Pearson deserved the silver rather than the bronze (one judge had him in 9th place overall, whereas all the others had in him 1st or 2nd - something not quite right there...), but no disputing the winner was easily Pepo Puch of Austria.  He really went for it, seemingly with no thought for his own safety as he asked for medium trot across the diagional and off his horse went, nearly leaving him behind!  Then again, he is a former four star event rider who has been round Badminton and evented at the Athens Olympics, so he must have a screw loose anyway! Lol!

Lee Pearson

The British public has absolutely got behind Pepo.  He is incredibly popular and friendly and when the result was announced the crowd starting chanting Pepo, Pepo, Pepo...  He came into the arena to acknowledge everyone and had to be guided back out again for the victory ceremony...!  Great fun.

It was the wrap party for volunteers this evening which started with group photos in the arena then food and drinks and photos with a paralympic torch.  Once again a top evening with everyone starting to reminesce about the Olympics and Paralympics and not believing that it's nearly all over.  Just one more day of competition at Greenwich Park...


Tuesday 4th September 2012

So... my final day as a Games Maker arrived.  Early shift today, so I walked to the Park in the dark, with a very bright moon overhead!  I did have to keep checking that I set my alarm correctly and it wasn't really still the middle of the night - it just felt like it!  

There were still three sets of medals to be decided today with the freestyle competitions for grades IV, III and Ia, so a very busy competition day with a full quota of volunteers on duty.  Our morning was very hectic with all usual duties and giving out the final reward and recognition items to all the workforce on their last shift.  Complete mix of attitudes here - lots of people were sad it was coming to an end and were thrilled with their gifts, others looked relieved it was nearly over!  The vast majority of volunteers at Greenwich have all been completely fabulous and wouldn't have swopped the experience for the world, but there are always one or two who make you think "Why on earth did you bother volunteering?"!!  Overall though, there was a real party atmosphere on venue and plenty of good vibes coming from the spectators.

My whole games experience was really completed today with a tour around the stables.  For obvious reasons the stable area is very restricted but my manager arranged for some of our team to have a tour.  Our accreditation was upgraded and off we went.  Totally amazing, more than first class facilities!  Really like six-star accommodation for horses with their every need catered for and lots of space.  All the horses we saw looked totally relaxed and happy.  It was a very calm environment with trees providing lots of shade, wide walkways between stable areas and the washing area (which was as clean as you would expect to see in your own shower!!), or up to the forge.  There were a couple of farriers working today.  One had just featured in the centre of todays 'Times' as part of a 'behind the scenes at Greenwich Park' feature, so he was especially jolly!  We even got to go right into the German stable block and pat a couple of the horses - good times!

GB stables 2

As I was returning home that evening, I went back to the flat about 3pm, had a shower, packed up all my bits and pieces in my car then drove my car to a car park just outside the venue.  I got back in time to watch the last three medal ceremonies with my team - 1 GB silver, 2 golds, yippee - and we all got very emotional!  Being part of such a small team means we all got to know each other well and I have made some new friends for life.  When the last National Anthem played, for the gold medal in the team competition, we couldn't look at each other.  Just the thought that it was the end of competition and the venue was going to be dismantled and this would never happen again...  As the sun set over Greenwich Park, it did feel like the end (oh dear, getting teary just writing this!!).  We finished the evening with a team meal at the local Mexican restaurant, a quick stop back at the Gold & Saddle (which was PACKED), and hearing the merriment of the French team who had taken over the piano bar just up the road.  They had moved some of the 'road closed' cones, arranged them in a bowling style and were pushing each other in their wheelchairs to knock them down...  Completely hilarious!

Greenwich Park entrance

BUT - the time eventually came.  I had to bid everyone goodbye and start the drive home.  Goodbye Greenwich Park and the fabulous Workforce Operations team... Until our Christmas reunion!! xxx