Along with many other people, I was disappointed with the farce which was the London 2012 ticketing system (the event manager in me was even angrier). The Paralympics were seen by lots of people as a consolation prize: a poor man’s version which, even so, provided an opportunity to visit the same venues which would have hosted the Olympics previously.
My experiences in attempting to obtain tickets for the Olympics and Paralympics could not have been more different: I spent hours online refreshing pages and battling with other people on multiple occasions when trying to get tickets for the former. When Paralympic tickets went on sale, it was as simple as making an average online purchase: add tickets to basket, put card details in, job done. It was also much cheaper – I chose to attend the dressage event with my sister and two colleagues, with the day divides into two sessions, each costing £10. Bargain: dressage tickets for the Olympics were selling for a minimum of twice that for one session.
When the day itself finally arrived, we were all excited to see the action – the Olympics had done a great job of firing the spirits of the nation, and I in particular had watched hours of coverage, ably assisted by my ability to watch on a variety of devices and platforms, and without the hindrance of the Games taking place in a faraway time zone.
Even our journey to the venue was thrilling: Gamesmakers – who receive a lot of credit, but no amount is too much for what they achieved – literally cheered us along our path to Greenwich Park. The security queue was as quick and straightforward as possible, and before we knew it we were in the arena. The seating for the Paralympic dressage was unallocated, so we chose our seats and began to take it all in.
Although I’m a huge equestrianism-enthusiast, even I recognise that dressage is not a brilliant spectator sport. But the crowd were behind these riders – many clearly having travelled from the competitors’ local clubs to watch, or gain inspiration. In addition, announcers provided information in the riders during their entrance – who they were, and how they’d come to qualify in their category. What astonished me was that, at a rough guess, one third were Paralympians due to congenital disabilities, another third had suffered I juries during later life, and the final third had suffered injuries whilst horse riding…yet still chose to get back on a horse and compete at top level.
We saw the likes of Natasha Baker – now infamous for her bubbly personality as much as her riding; Lee Pearson – Britain’s top Paralympic rider for many years, whose appearance prompted a child behind me to ask, “is that the one from Come Dine With Me?”, congratulations on transcending your sport, Lee; Pepo Puch – one of the previously mentioned riders who sustained an injury, Pepo competed in the Olympic eventing in Athens prior to riding as a Paralympian in London; Jonathan Wentz – who struck me as an individual who was incredibly happy to be present, I was sad to hear that Jonathan died some three weeks later.
Upon failing to get Olympics tickets, I was guilty of feeling that I’d lost out, and was using the Paralympics as a consolation price. The athletes and the crowd proved me wrong a year ago, putting on a show, getting behind their team and showing what it’s all about to compete at the top of your sport, whilst overcoming additional adversity. My extended respect goes to those who literally got back on their horses, like Pepo, having sustained a career-shattering injury.
This time next year, the World Equestrian Games will be underway in Normandy. Para-dressage will run alongside the other sports taking place during the competition, and I’ll be attempting to take in as many sports as possible, including the one which moved me to tears in London. This time, though, para-dressage will be near the top of my ticket wish list, rather than a consolation prize.