Tom Degun: Great memories remain despite the sad demolition of the QEII Stadium
Monday, 07 May 2012
The 20,000-capacity venue was built for the 1974 Commonwealth Games, but given that those Games happened some time before I was born, I remember the venue primarily for the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) World Athletics Championships that took place in January 2011.
I spent the best part of a month covering that event, which was actually thrown in to severe doubt when a major 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck the area just four months before the start of the event.
Another three earthquakes – measuring 5.1, 3.4 and 4.0 on the Richter scale – again rocked Christchurch - and me in my bed at a pleasant Christchurch hotel - the day before the championships began on January 20.
But the event still went ahead as planned and was hosted successfully.
I have many fond memories of my few weeks in the picturesque city, not least a chance meeting with the New Zealand Prime Minister John Key following the Opening Ceremony, but it was the QEII Stadium that was undoubtedly my favourite of the many fantastic locations in the city.
It was quite unlike many other athletics stadiums in that it was relatively intimate with just one small stand featuring bright blue seats.
It was also located in the middle of the countryside, the sort of place that you might strangely stumble across if you got lost down a deserted backstreet lane.
But there was an atmosphere in there like no other when it was full and when I think back to my time there, no race will stand out more than the stunning T44 100 metre showdown between South Africa's four-time Paralympic gold medallist Oscar Pistorius (pictured below second right) and American sensation Jerome Singleton (pictured below, left).
Unsurprisingly, Pistorius was the poster boy of the event and was seen signing autographs, undertaking interviews or posing for pictures at every turn.
Singleton meanwhile, was slightly under the radar and went about his business quietly.
But what followed was not only the best race in the history of Paralympic sporting competition, but quite possibly the best race the QEII has ever witnessed.
Anticipation reached a fevered pitch before the start of the race and as the gun went off, a fired up Singleton exploded out of the blocks.
The one leg amputee from America was well up on Pistorius at the halfway stage but suddenly, the South African's famous "blades" went into overdrive and he began to reel in his man.
I was seated right on the finish line with a perfect view when I saw Pistorius inch ahead of his man in the closing five metres.
But Singleton, clearly sensing something dramatic was needed to hold off his great rival, suddenly dived forward, face first over the line, landing heavily on his front.
There was complete confusion about who had actually won the race and after an agonising few minutes, the giant screen revealed that the American had piped the South African by 0.01sec to deliver Pistorius his first defeat in disability competition in seven years and avenge his narrow defeat to the same man at the Beijing 2008 Paralympics.
After the race, Singleton showed me his blood-stained hands that had taken the brunt of the impact from his spectacular dive but with an enormous smile, the likeable American said it was more than worth the pain.
It has perfectly set up what will be the blue riband race of the London 2012 Paralympics and organisers can only hope that the action at the Olympic Stadium in Stratford is nearly half as dramatic as the great race at the QEII Stadium.
There were many other stunning moments at that Championships, including Britain's David Weir (pictured above, front) storming to three gold medals on the track, but just days after we all jumped on a plane to leave Christchurch, that devastating earthquake hit to end tragically the lives of so many and render the QEII Stadium obsolete.
Fortunately, the courageous people of Christchurch have managed to slowly rebuild their lives following the disaster, but the QEII Stadium is irreparable.
Obviously, it is only really expensive bricks and cement, far less important than lives, but it holds so much history that it is hard not to let nostalgia creep in with the knowledge that the IPC World Athletics Championships were the last major event to be held at the QEII Stadium.
But while the bulldozers will be able to tear down the remaining bricks, the great memories will remain and thanks to Pistorius and Singleton, we can be safe in the knowledge that the great venue got a fitting farewell that will not be forgotten.
Tom Degun is a reporter for insidethegames and insideworldparasport.