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The Big Read (Paralympics)

Ex-Army commando Goddard hopes to drive Britain to Paratriahlon glory at Rio 2016

By Gary Anderson

gary andersonWhen Britain's Jimmy Goddard lines up for the start of the Paratriathlon event at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio, it will be 12 years since the former army commando's life changed forever.

The glorious setting of Rio's Copacabana Beach, which will stage the Olympic and Paralympic triathlon competitions in 2016, will be a world away from the colder, damper environs of the Welsh mountains where, in 2004, Goddard was left paralysed from the waist down following a climbing accident.

A talented able bodied triathlete before his accident, it is not inconceivable that the man from Bracknell, Berkshire would have been lining up alongside the Brownlee brothers - Alastair and Jonathan - and taking to the warm Atlantic waters that dance along the sandy shore of this iconic stretch of Brazilian coastline, as part of the British triathlon squad.

Cockroft still riding the London 2012 wave and loving every minute of it

James Crook head and shouldersHannah Cockroft announced herself on the Paralympic athletics scene with a bang in 2010, when she pulled off the remarkable feat of breaking four world records at the British Wheelchair Athletics Association International, before going on to take world titles in the 100 metres and 200m T34 events at the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) World Athletics Championships in Christchurch a year later as a fresh-faced 18-year-old.

And all using a racing chair that was modified by her welder father in Halifax.

"Chuffed to bits" Briscoe sets sights on improving ParalympicsGB performance at Sochi 2014 after Vancouver blank

By Tom Degun

Tom Degun ITG2It was no real surprise earlier this month when the British Paralympic Association (BPA) appointed their performance director Penny Briscoe as the ParalympicsGB Chef de Mission for the Sochi 2014 Winter Games.

For over a decade now, Briscoe has helped mastermind the British team's performances at the Paralympics, where they have maintained a top three position for the three consecutive Summer Games she has been involved with.

How less than 11 seconds changed Jonnie Peacock's life

Tom Degun ITG2It took less than 11 seconds for Jonnie Peacock to go from promising Paralympic athlete to sporting superstar.

Well, 10.90sec, to be precise.

That is the time it took the 19-year-old single-leg amputee from Cambridge to win 100 metres T44 final in what was the blue-ribbon event of the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

The Paralympics are closer to our lives than the Olympics, claims Sainsbury's chief executive

By Tom Degun

Tom Degun - ITGIn the grand story of the London 2012 Games, May 4, 2010, will probably be only a small footnote even though it signalled an historic moment and led to controversy that went far behind these shores.

It was the day that retail giant Sainsbury's were officially unveiled by London 2012 as the first ever Tier One Paralympic-only sponsor.

The multi-million pound deal remains one of the biggest ever deals for the Paralympic Movement, giving Sainsbury's exclusive rights to the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

We couldn't be happier with the London Paralympics but we will be doing our Games the Brazilian way, says CPB President

By Tom Degun

Tom Degun_-_ITGAfter a hugely successful London 2012 Paralympic Games, the spotlight has turned well and truly on Rio de Janeiro and a high bar has been set for the Brazilian city after International Paralympic Committee (IPC) President Sir Philip Craven declared Britain's event the "greatest Paralympics ever".

One thing for certain is that Brazil will be staging a very different Games. While Britain is steeped in Paralympic history, the Games having been created in Stoke Mandeville in 1948, Brazil is positioning itself as its future with Rio 2016 set to be the first time the Paralympics have been staged in South America.

There will be several key figures involved in ensuring the Rio 2016 Paralympics runs smoothly but perhaps none will be more important than the President of the Brazilian Paralympic Committee (CPB) Andrew Parsons.

Tom Degun: There is a reason why wheelchair rugby is still known as murderball

Tom Degun_-_ITGWhen it first started, it wasn't called wheelchair rugby.

It was in fact known by the rather ominous name of murderball.

As the legend goes, murderball was introduced to the United States in 1981 by a man named Brad Mikkelsen.

With the aid of the University of North Dakota's Disabled Student Services, Mikkelsen formed the first American team called the Wallbangers. The first North American competition was held shortly after in 1982.

Several years later, as the sport began to grow internationally, it was officially changed from murderball to the far less sinister wheelchair rugby.

Fortunately, for fans of the hard-hitting discipline, the rules have remained virtually unchanged and the power, skill and sheer brutality that make it so incredibly watchable are still its core features.

During the London 2012 Paralympics, the sport was housed in the 12,000 capacity Basketball Arena on the Olympic Park and, as with most sports at these incredible Games, a full crowd was in attendance for virtually every match.

Steve Brown_Kylie_Grimes_David_Anthony_Aaron_Phipps_and_Mike_KerrSteve Brown, Kylie Grimes, David Anthony, Aaron Phipps and Mike Kerr of Great Britain's wheelchair rugby squad

I have encountered the sport several times in my career so far, including at a superb Great Britain exhibition match in the streets of central London not too long ago, but my busy schedule at London 2012 left me resigned to watching the majority of the wheelchair rugby competition on the giant monitors at the Main Press Centre (MPC).

However, there was one match that I refused to miss and that was the gold medal game.

I had been expecting to see a repeat of the Beijing 2008 Paralympic final, and indeed the 2010 World Championship final, where the United States had defeated Australia on both occasions.

However, a major shock in the semi-final saw Canada edge a dramatic 50-49 win over reigning Paralympic and world champions to claim a surprise final berth.

There were no such problems on the other side of the draw as Australia kept to the script with a comfortable 59-45 win over Japan to book their place in the gold medal match and set up an intriguing clash.

As I arrived at the gleaming Basketball Arena, which will sadly be taken down now the Games are over, there was an air of anticipation ahead of the match.

The US had just taken the bronze with a 53-43 win over Japan but a huge collection of green and gold shirts in the crowd showed that the majority of the 12,000 who were in attendance to see Australia march to glory.

Most of the green and gold shirts had "BATT 3" plastered across the back of them and for those who have any really knowledge of wheelchair rugby it is not hard to guess why.

Canadas Zak_Madell_L_crashes_into_Australias_Ryley_Batt_CCanada's Zak Madell (L) crashes into Australia's Ryley Batt (C) during the London 2012 gold medal wheelchair rugby match

The formidable Ryley Batt is still only 23-years-old but is already the veteran of three Paralympic Games, including London 2012, and has for several years been regarded as the best wheelchair rugby player on the planet.

His story is also a fascinating one.

Born without legs, Batt required surgery to separate his webbed fingers and until the age of 12, he did not use a wheelchair, preferring to move around on a skateboard.

He was finally convinced to use a wheelchair when he saw a demonstration of wheelchair rugby at his school and after taking up the sport later that year, he quickly became addicted.

His huge talent soon became clear and Batt became the youngest Paralympic rugby player in the world at the age of 15 when he went to Athens 2004. He returned to the Games in Beijing in 2008 to help the team to silver but London finally saw the Australian attend a Paralympics at the peak of his powers.

The gold medal match saw some huge collisions and heavy knockdowns that continually drew gasps from the crowd. But all the while, Batt appeared on a different planet. Try as they might, Canada simply couldn't deal with the pace and movement of the Australian as he constantly ghosted through their vicious defence with apparent ease to leave them bemused.

The giant Batt also proved a titan in the Australian defence, rarely coming off second best in a collision and making hits so big that the term "murder" looked like it might reappear in the official vocabulary of the sport.

Ryley Batt_10-09-12Ryley Batt celebrates winning gold in the mixed wheelchair rugby against Canada at the London 2012 Paralympic Games

He ended with an unbelievable 37 goals in the final, over half of Australia's points as they won 66-51, but Batt himself had not realised this in his one-man demolition job.

"Was it 37?" he told me in the mixed zone straight after the game with a smirk before quickly recomposing himself.

"It's a team sport though.

"It's fantastic to score goals of course, but the work of the boys out there who were screening for me, the low-pointers out there, the mid-pointers, high-pointers, they've all done a fantastic job, and they allow me to look good on court when they probably do all the work for me."

It was very modest of the wheelchair rugby star to say but the rest of the team, and indeed every wheelchair rugby player at London 2012, deserves huge credit.

They put on a pure exhibition of brilliant sport, which like its able-bodied counterpart, featured tactics, pace, power and, of course, the brutal hits.

As the show ended, I heard a small handful of spectators who had very much enjoyed the match, enquire why rugby is not at the Olympics as well.

I pointed out to them that the sport would be making its long-awaited return to the Olympics (having last appeared at the Paris Games in 1924) at Rio 2016 in the form of rugby sevens.

They seemed pleased and so they should be.

It promises to be a spectacular event, and with two servings of murderball in Rio in four years, rugby and wheelchair rugby could prove a show stealer in Brazil.

Tom Degun is a reporter for insidethegames

Mike Rowbottom: With the box marked 2012 boldly ticked, the prospects for Britain at Rio 2016 look rich indeed

Mike Rowbottom_3The goal for Britain's track and field athletes at these Paralympics was 23-28 medals, with between five and eight medals, and a place in the top 10 nations. After today's final flourish by David Weir and Shelly Woods in the golden sunshine of The Mall, the host nation finished with 29 medals, 11 of them gold, and third place overall.

Not surprising, then, that the Swede appointed just over three years ago as head coach of the UK Athletics Paralympics programme, Peter Eriksson, expressed heartfelt satisfaction with the way things have turned out as he stood alongside the finish line.

"We have exceeded our target," he said, before underlining his wish to see the momentum through to the Rio Paralympics of 2016.

Shortly after his appointment in December 2008, Eriksson – who had guided Canadian track and field athletes to 119 medals in the course of the previous seven Paralympics – told insideworldparasport that Britain was under-performing in the athletics arena. The 2000 Sydney Games saw a haul of 47 medals, which fell to 17 at the two subsequent Games.

"I want to make sure the team does well in 2012 and beyond," he said. "I think there's a lot of things we can do that are going to make a difference."

Peter Eriksson_09-09-12
Eriksson (pictured above) was encouraged in his ambitions by the fact that UK Sport was investing £6.6 million ($10.6 million/€8.3 million) for the Paralympic cycle just ended, which was 20 times more than the investment for those he oversaw in Canada.

"I do think this is a great challenge, though, because Britain can only get better," he added. "We will be optimising our performance by 2012, but what we do in 2016 could be the biggest definition."

Three years on, with the box marked 2012 boldly ticked, it seems the prospects for 2016 are heady indeed. So what's the secret – other than the money, of course?

"The change we have done is we integrate everything with the Olympic programme," Eriksson reflected today. "Same expectations, same training camps, same support. Then we upped expectations on the athletes so it's no longer a rewards programme, it's an investment in medals.

"Plus the support staff and coaching staff I have with the team is partly the same as the Olympic team. They are the best. They can make sure we deliver."

Eriksson has not got where he is today by being a softy. "Everybody has to be sure of what is expected of them," he said, ominously, after taking over his current position. "If athletes can't live up to the expectations that have been set then this is not the place to be."

david weir_09-09-12
But he was bursting with praise for the two athletes who had delivered medals on the day, and indeed for the overall impact made upon the wider world by Britain's Paralympic athletes.

"I am so happy for David (pictured above) and Shelly (pictured below)," he said. "For David to step up and do it again is tough. And Shelly has had a really tough time on the track. It has been a nightmare for her. To be able to do what she did today is phenomenal. This is where she belongs.

"David is the most talented racer I have ever seen. You can see it on the track with the speed and acceleration, but now he's showing the best endurance too. How much better can it be? The best racer I've seen in history."

One of the more remarkable sporting statistics of the past week concerns television viewing figures. A total of 6.6 million watched Channel 4's coverage of Thriller Thursday in the Olympic Stadium. The ITV figure for England's World Cup qualifier football match in Moldova on Friday was 3.9 million.

shelly woods_09-09-12
"People now understand the sport better," Eriksson explained. "There have been 80,000 for every session and it does not just come from cheap tickets. How much better can it be? And 86 or 87 world records shows the fierce competition all round.

"Last Thursday in the stadium it was the greatest night in Paralympic history and probably one of the top three nights in sports, period. It can't be much better. What did we have – 112 decibels? It was louder than for Mo Farah. Mo, you have to do it better!"

On the subject of merging resources with Olympic counterparts, Eriksson added: "We have integrated a lot already. We do events in Diamond League and we try to integrate as much as we can. We have a really good developmental programme called Parallel Success.

"But we need to get more and more people into the sport. The last three years we have got almost nearly 300 new athletes classified so we are growing. Thanks to my team we are getting there."

Eriksson described the question of whether he will be staying on to see things through to 2016 as "the £100,000 [$160,000/€125,000] question", adding: "I always wanted to stay until 2016 because first thing I said when I got here in an interview, which I got in trouble for, was the best performance from this team will come in 2016. Then it's up to negotiations. I believe that still about 2016.

"The Russians will be behind us. I would like to stay. Why move down from the top of the Premier League to the third division? It's not fun."

Chantal Petitclerc_09-09-12
He is also hoping that Canada's multiple Paralympic champion Chantal Petitclerc (pictured above), who is currently mentoring many of the British athletes, will also stay on.

Eriksson has an enthusiastic ally in his determination to create a thriving new generation of Paralympic track and field competitors for Britain.

In the wake of his marathon victory, Weir spoke about some of the up-and-coming wheelchair racers whose careers he is supervising at his Kingston club.

"We've got a bright future ahead," Weir said. "That's my part for the legacy. I'm going to make sure there's going to be a number of men and women in wheelchair races in Rio – maybe not medalling but we'll get them there.

"Hopefully from there'll be another flurry of kids, army guys, whoever wants to come and try wheelchair racing. You don't have to be elite. Just come down to us at Kingston and we'll try our best and support you."

With support of that calibre, the prospects for Rio look rich indeed.

Mike Rowbottom, one of Britain's most talented sportswriters, has covered the past five Summer and four Winter Olympics for The Independent. Previously he has worked for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Observer, the Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian. He is now chief feature writer for insidethegames and insideworldparasport.

Mike Rowbottom: Coldplay rule the stadium as Britain rules the Paralympic world

Mike RowbottomWhat is the world to make of Britain? We have staged an Olympics that has surpassed expectations. We have staged a Paralympics that has done the same.

Two Opening Ceremonies and two Closing Ceremonies have celebrated some of our very particular strengths and concerns: the National Health Service; the Industrial Revolution; The Kinks; freedom of speech; Mr Bean taking the mickey out of Chariots of Fire; the Queen – yes, the Queen – taking the mickey out of herself in a filmed sequence with the latest James Bond, Daniel Craig; the Arctic Monkeys; Help for Heroes. It's an eclectic mix.

In the end, the ceremonies book-ending the two sequences of sporting action this summer have been a celebration of what the English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins described as "all things counter, original, spare, strange..."

We are British. We are a bit odd. And we have embraced the Olympic and Paralympic spirit...

And in between the ceremonies, crucially, we have presented sport which has surpassed all expectation.

Sir Philip Craven (pictured below, with flag), President of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), went on record at the end of tonight's Paralympic Closing Ceremony as saying that the Games just ended were "the greatest Paralympic Games ever."

Sir Philip_Craven_09-09-12

Well yes. How often have you heard officials in such cases acclaim newly completed sporting contests as anything else? "London – we salute you for the second best Paralympics ever, or perhaps, bearing in mind Sydney, the third best..." No. Not going to happen.

But he may well have been right.

Tonight's Paralympic Closing Ceremony – the last squeeze of the Olympic/Paralympic lemon – was prefaced by a bizarre sequence which resembled a children's BBC programme featuring out-of-kilter music by Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd just before he went off the rails, in which a number of figures in grey robes, issuing Telly Tubby-like hoots and sighs, wafted about to no apparent purpose – all of which was witnessed amid a baffled silence by a previously boisterous capacity crowd.

At the end of this strange affair, three thin segments of giant white inflatables were left wafting in the air beyond the main stage. They looked like pieces of onion discarded from a Big Mac – was this perhaps a sequence involving one of the key Games sponsors?

But no. Soon they agitated themselves into the symbol for the Paralympics, and the show properly got underway.

Britains Paralympic_sprinter_Jonnie_Peacock_colllects_the_Paralympic_Flame_to_extinguish_it_as_the_cauldron_unwinds_for_the_final_time_during_the_closing_ceremony

Suddenly there was a LOT of flame and fire being bandied about – more brands than, well, an Olympic marketing roster. It was, of course, a symbol of the Games. But you had to wonder if the director, Kim Gavin, had a bit of a problem with matches as a child.

There followed a hugely affecting sequence celebrating Help for Heroes, a cause particularly close to the Gavin's heart. In emotional terms, it was like turning over from CBeebies to a Channel 4 documentary.

After a team from Help for Heroes had raised a flagpole, it was climbed, with some effort, by Captain Luke Sinnott (pictured below), who lost most of both legs and the use of his right arm after stepping on an IED while serving in Afghanistan in 2010.

Captain Luke_Sinnott_climbs_to_hang_the_Union_Flag

"Let the love that the Paralympics has kindled in our hearts burn brightly as we come together as one, for the Festival of the Flame," intoned Corporal Rory Mackenzie, who lost a leg to a roadside bomb while on patrol in Afghanistan, with the sonorous depth of a Shakespearean actor.

There followed the announcement of the male and female winners of the Whang Youn Dai awards. The turbulent name of Oscar Pistorius – nominated for his groundbreaking work for the Paralympic cause, but lately troubled by reactions that some might have interpreted as bad sportsmanship – was conspicuously avoided. The men's prize went to Ireland's double Paralympic champion Michael McKillop while Kenya's Mary Nakhumicha Zakayo took the prize for women.

There then followed a Coldplay concert, featuring Rihanna and Jay-Z. It was great. What it had to do with the Paralympics was something you could discuss, but what is beyond discussion is the fact that Coldplay are Londoners, and very good, and Rihanna and Jay-Z are American, and also very good. It was beautifully staged, with all possible interest in terms of light and personnel, and the crowd, with lights flowing through and over them, loved it to bits.

Mayor of_London_Boris_Johnson_Sir_Philip_Craven_and_Eduardo_Paes_perform_the_Paralympic_flag_handover_ceremony

Eduardo Paes (pictured above, with flag), the Mayor of Brazil, made a great job of waving the Olympic flag from side to side after receiving it from his London counterpart, Boris Johnson, via IPC President Sir Philip.

And, oh, we got all Brazilian as the flag of the nation which will take on the Olympic baton showed a little bit of the music and life force we can look forward to in four years' time.

Sebastian Coe, chairman of London 2012, spoke sparely and effectively as he recalled his meeting on the Tube with a Games Maker, Andrew, who turned out to be a doctor who had attended victims of the 7/7 Tube bombings the day after the announcement that London would host the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.

"He said he was the one to do the thanking, and as we did a very British dance over who should thank whom, he suddenly cut through it all," Coe (pictured below, speaking) said, adding: "He told me 'I was on duty on 7/7, that awful day. For me, this is closure. I wasn't sure if I should come or whether I could face it. I'm so glad I did. For I've seen the worst of mankind and now I've seen the best of mankind.'

Sebastian Coe_addresses_the_crowd_at_the_London_2012_Paralympic_Closing_Ceremony

"Just a few days later I met a Games Maker at the Paralympics, Emily, who told me what participating in wheelchair basketball means to her. 'It has lifted my limitations,'" she said.

"So Andrew and Emily, I'm going to have the last word. Thank you to you and all the volunteers."

Which was followed by a standing ovation.

"The Paralympics is setting records every day," Coe continued. "Sporting records, records for television audiences. In this country we will never think of sport in the same way – and we will never think of disability in the same way."

True. And after this, we will probably never think of closing ceremonies in the same way either.

Mike Rowbottom, one of Britain's most talented sportswriters, has covered the past five Summer and four Winter Olympics for The Independent. Previously he has worked for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Observer, the Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian. He is now chief feature writer for insidethegames and insideworldparasport.

Mike Rowbottom: Ellie Simmonds – seizing the moment with Eminem in mind

Mike RowbottomBefore Ellie Simmonds swims her big races she listens to the Eminem song Lose Yourself.

The lyrics include these lines: "Look, if you had one shot, one opportunity to seize everything you wanted in one moment, would you capture it or just let it slip? You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow, this opportunity comes once in a lifetime, yo..."

Shortly after taking silver in the 100 metres freestyle S6 (pictured below) behind her big American rival and fellow 17-year-old, Victoria Arlen, the Briton, who had already established herself as the home poster girl of the London Paralympics, reflected upon her overall performance here after a Games which has seen her win two golds in world-record times and an additional bronze.

She had failed to seize everything she wanted in this one moment. She had failed to capture a third gold, letting it slip. But – emphatically – she had not missed her chance to blow.

And as for it being the opportunity of a lifetime – well, she is already talking animatedly about next year's World Championships and indeed the 2016 Rio Paralympics where the rivalry with Arlen could continue to compel attention.

"My coach and I always say that you only get one chance, so you have to get your head down and go for it," she said. "I would have loved to get the gold medal but you can't have everything. I have been on the podium for every race at these Games so I can't ask for any more.

Ellie Simmonds_8_Sept
"I want to go away and chill for a while with my family and friends and then start training for the World Championships next year.

"As for Rio – you never know about injuries, and I have my education to think about, too. But I would love to go to Rio; that's my aim, although you never know.

"Victoria is 17, the same age as me, and I am sure we can push each other even further at the World Championships, and if I go to Rio and she goes to Rio."

Simmonds, whose family home is in Walsall but who lives and trains with coach Billy Pye in Swansea – with her parents boxing and coxing to make that possible – competed in what has now become, for her, a familiar patriotic din as a near-capacity crowd willed her to round off her London Games with another winning flourish.

She finished in 1min 14.82sec, a personal best by more than a second and just 0.08 off the world record set by Arlen in qualifying.

Eminen Lose_Yourself_8_Sept
Arlen, however, with her longer body and more languorous stroke, lowered that mark to 1:13.33 as she established a commanding halfway lead and then maintained her position despite a frantic final 50 metres which saw the Briton closing on her.

Immediately after the race Simmonds told Channel 4: "I'm just really chuffed. A pb by over a second. I gave it everything on that last 50 metres. I could see her but I just didn't have anything left."

It is not just success in the pool which has established Simmonds in such a position of esteem, but her positive, down-to-earth manner. Asked if, having added two golds now to the two she won as a 13-year-old at the Beijing Games, she felt it would be possible to challenge the total of 11 golds earned by British wheelchair racer Tanni Grey-Thompson, she was clearly uncomfortable with such chat.

"I'm not like Tanni Grey-Thompson," she retorted. "I don't think about getting 11 golds. I take things as they come. I've got my own goals and I do the best I can."

There was similar awkwardness, too, when the topic was raised of what she might now expect from the New Year Honours List having become the youngest person to receive the MBE at the age of 14.

"After Beijing I was honoured to get the MBE but I haven't thought about anything like that here," she responded. "I have got two golds, a silver and a bronze, and I think that's the main thing for me."

Victoria Arlen_8_Sept
Arlen (pictured above) was allowed to race against Simmonds after avoiding being reclassified by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) in the run-up to the Games.

The IPC initially ruled that the American, who was left in a vegetative state for two years after contracting a neurological virus that affected her spinal cord, was ineligible to compete alongside Simmonds in the S6 class – for swimmers with a short stature, amputations of both arms or moderate co-ordination problems on one side of their body.

But Arlen successfully appealed, and what looks likely to be an enduring rivalry was set in motion.

Simmonds told Channel 4 that "Beijing is always going to be the best Games for me" but by the time she spoke to the written press she had modified that opinion, ranking the home Games, at which she had been able to see so much of her friends and family, as being on a par.

"This Games has been amazing," she said. "I don't want it to end but it is ending and I'm just looking forward to celebrating now."

That is something this shining talent richly deserves. The final gold may have slipped by, but she has already captured an esteem that is profoundly more important than a medal.

Mike Rowbottom, one of Britain's most talented sportswriters, has covered the past five Summer and four Winter Olympics for The Independent. Previously he has worked for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Observer, the Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian. He is now chief feature writer for insidethegames.

Mike Rowbottom: After Super Saturday, Britain’s Paralympians deliver Thriller Thursday

Mike Rowbottom_3For Super Saturday, read Thriller Thursday. Britain's Paralympians delivered their own version of triple triumph here tonight as the golds won by Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah on the first weekend of the Olympic track and field programme were matched by Hannah Cockcroft, David Weir and Jonnie Peacock.

But for a final effort in the men's F44 discus by the American world record holder Jeremy Campbell, which pushed Dan Greaves down to silver, the gold tally would have topped even that Olympic one of recent memory. It was surely the greatest night in British Paralympic track and field history.

"The crowd has made London 2012, and I am so proud to be British," said 19-year-old Peacock (pictured below) after he had secured the object of his desire, the gold medal in the T46 100 metres.

For the bulk of spectators here in the Olympic Stadium the main question of the night had appeared to be this: would the Weirwolf howl again, or would the Peacock strut his stuff, preventing Pistorius from being glorious?

Jonnie Peacock_Sept_6
In the event, both home wishes came true as Weir (pictured below) – now indissolubly linked in the public imagination with Warren Zevon's anthemic 1978 song Werewolves of London – won his third track gold of these Games in the T54 wheelchair 800m and Peacock followed up by securing the much-hyped 100m title ahead of a field which included South Africa's defending champion Oscar Pistorius, who finished outside the medals.

Weir's earlier feats in winning gold at 5,000 and 1500m had already established him in a new persona – prompted by his team-mates – which drew upon his old nickname of Beast, a nod to his ferocious strength and commitment.

Unlike the werewolf of Zevon's imagination, Weir was not carrying a Chinese menu in his hand. Nor indeed was he mutilating little old ladies, nor drinking a pina colada at Trader Vic's, as that old Werewolf of London did. Instead he was ramming the wheels on his wheelchair with every particle of energy in his body, and as he unwound his full, fearsome power in the final straight to drive himself beyond his nearest challenger, Lixin Zhang of China (who was subsequently disqualified), the air reverberated.

After crossing the line, the roar of triumph came from the Briton, and as he undid his racing vest to expose his chest you half-expected to see a thicket of fur. Ah-wooooo!! Weirwolf of London indeed!!

David Weir_open_vest_Sept_6
As the next field lined up for 100m, the crowd began a charmingly innocent chant of  "Pea-cock, Pea-cock", in the manner of school match supporters, before being shushed down by the prefect/announcer. The tension escalated as Alan Oliveira, the Brazilian who had precipitated the biggest hoo-hah since the Battle of Britain by defeating Pistorius in Sunday's (September 2) 200m final, stuttered over the line for a false start. Then the field got away cleanly – with single leg amputees Peacock and Richard Browne of the United States starting best and holding on despite the expected charge of the double amputees as they began to benefit from their greater momentum following slower starts.

Who would have thought, four, two, or even one year ago that Pistorius, the man who has bridged the Paralympic/Olympic gulf, would be an also-ran as he defended an Olympic title? Or indeed that he would not be the focus of general attention?

And so Peacock, the fresh-faced teenager from Cambridge, who lost his right leg as a five-year-old after contracting meningitis, finished three places clear of the man who had inspired him to take up athletics. Strutting his stuff indeed.

Even before the noise had died down, it rose again as Greaves extended his lead with a Paralympic record of 59.01m before running over to congratulate the young sprinter with a mighty bear hug.

The media build-up to the two climactic races of the evening's programme had contained the depth and richness of detail which has for so long been the preserve of Olympic, rather than Paralympic events. Yet another significant marker for Paralympics that has raised the bar for future Games in so many ways.

Hannah Cockcroft_Sept_6
The 80,000 crowd had already had an opportunity to celebrate a home triumph in saluting Cockcroft's (pictured above) achievement as she added the women's 200m T34 title to the 100m version she had won on Friday (August 31) to register Britain's first track and field gold of the Games, when she broke the world record twice in the process.

With the camera showing her face close up on the screen, Cockcroft played her patriotic part to the full as she belted out the anthem while maintaining a broad grin – not an easy thing to do.

The spectators had also had the chance to produce one of those warm-hearted moments that occasionally emerge at major championships as they raised the roof – or at least, would have done if the Olympic stadium had one – in encouraging Yohansson Nascimento to finish in the men's T46 100m final following his earlier fall.

As the Brazilian edged his way painfully across the line in 1min 30.79sec, and slumped down immediately after it to be surrounded by anxious officials, the Stadium was a ringing ferment of top volume goodwill.

At such moments the adopted adage of modern Games' founder, Baron Pierre de Coubertin – "The most important not winning, but taking part" – appears validated. But then along come moments of naked home triumphalism to throw that assertion open to question once again...

As the national anthem sounded out twice more at the end of the programme, it would have been hard to find a better description of the two Britons at the centre of the medal ceremonies than "happy and glorious". Tonight, Weir and Peacock personified the phrase.

Mike Rowbottom, one of Britain's most talented sportswriters, has covered the past five Summer and four Winter Olympics for The Independent. Previously he has worked for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Observer, the Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian. He is now chief feature writer for insidethegames and insideworldparasport. 

Mike Rowbottom: Pistorius cuts to the chase in the big blade question

Mike Rowbottom_3There was a rich irony in Oscar Pistorius' outraged reaction after his defeat here in the T44 200 metres final to the Brazilian who passed him in the final 25m, Alan Fonteles Cardoso Oliveira. But it was also a reaction which begged a very large question which still hangs over the business of amputee athletes running with the assistance of prosthetic "blades".

The defending champion whose right to run against able-bodied opposition in the World Championships and Olympic Games was only won after extended legal wrangling over the degree of mechanical advantage afforded by his own twin prosthetic "blades" insisted that his opponent had run on blades that were too long, making him much taller and offering him an unfair advantage in terms of speed.

"We are not running a fair race here, absolutely ridiculous," Pistorius told Channel 4's Sonja McLaughlan immediately after his race. "I'm not taking away from Alan's performance but I can't compete with Alan's stride length. The IPC (International Paralympic Committee) have their regulations and their regulations mean that some athletes can make themselves unbelievable high...his knee-heights are four inches higher than they should be.

"We have spoken to the IPC about the length of these blades but it has fallen on deaf ears. Guys are coming from nowhere to run ridiculous times. I don't know how you pull that back. I run at 10 metres per second and I don't know how someone comes back from eight metres behind in the home straight. It's not right."

In reply, however, IPC spokesman Craig Spence commented: "All blades are measured and Oliveira's passed the test. There has been no infringement of the rules."

Under IPC rules, prosthetic limbs are measured in the call room to ensure they are of equal length to the other limb, or prosthetic.

Oscar Pistorius_beaten_in_London_2012_Paralympic_200m_final_September_2_2012

"Oscar has to choose – either he was beaten fair and square by a better athlete or blade design CAN radically affect your performance level," tweeted Sir Matthew Pinsent, whose own involvement with blades was thankfully confined to the means by which he propelled himself and others to four Olympic rowing golds.

Bizarrely, almost two hours after the race had been run, both the IPC and Pistorius appeared to have shifted their positions, as Spence said that a special meeting would be convened on the following day to discuss Pistorius' "concerns" without the "emotions" of the race being involved.

Pistorius, meanwhile, appeared to backtrack on his earlier comments about Oliveira as he congratulated the Brazilian on "a great performance", adding that he had shaken the victor's hand on the warm-down track after the final.

Pistorius is unique. No other athlete has transcended the barriers in the way he has by becoming the first amputee to compete in world and Olympic track and field competition.

The South African's battles off the track have been as onerous as those on it as he has had to fight for the right to party at the Olympics, overturning an initial ban in January 2008 from the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), whose lawyers contended that the two prosthetic carbon fibre "blades" on which this double amputee runs gave him a "mechanical advantage" over able-bodied athletes – and perhaps also single amputees, several of whom have complained in the past about the fact that Pistorius had an effective advantage by having two prosthetics rather than one.

The scientific judgement which ruled Pistorius out of competing against able-bodied athletes was routed in May 2008 by the intervention of Professor Hugh Herr of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab, whose evidence and argument persuaded the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to reverse the IAAF ruling and give Pistorius clearance to run in the world championships and Olympics.

Oscar Pistorius_going_through_tests_with_Hugh_Herr

"Perhaps there is some level of negative bias that exists in today's society," said Herr, a double amputee himself after suffering exposure on a mountain climb when he was a teenager. "When people look at Oscar Pistorius they see he has an unusual body. That's fine when he's not competitive. But when he's being competitive, it becomes threatening. In the same way that, for some people, the colour of a person's skin is threatening. There are people out there who simply have a negative bias.

"My personal view is that we should architect a society where, if a person happens to be born without fully formed legs and if that person happens to be an extraordinary talent, he or she should be allowed to compete in a sports event such as the Olympic Games assuming qualifying time are satisfied. It's the dream of almost all top athletes to go to the Olympics.

"We should allow athletes that freedom, but we should also ensure fairness in sport."

Fairness, however, is a tricky thing to establish in Paralympic sport, as the recent spate of contention over classification at these Games has underlined. The IPC is doing its best to create a level playing field, but they are dealing with hugely complex factors.

Even Herr, Pistorius' impassioned champion, does not maintain that there is certainty about Pistorius running against able-bodied competitors, or about the full nature of how prosthetics assist performance.

"There are many aspects of this question that we are still to understand," he said. "Science can never prove anything. What science can do is provide overwhelming evidence to support a hypothesis.

"The conclusion of the CAS hearing was that there was insufficient evidence to support the hypothesis that Pistorius had an overall advantage in the 400 metres."

Oscar Pistorius_on_cheetah_blades

One other factor became clear in the wake of Pistorius' successful appeal of 2008, which nullified comments suggesting he was benefiting from escalating technological innovations.

Herr pointed out last year that the Cheetah blades used by Pistorius have been available to athletes in their current form for 15 years, and that the South African has run on the same blades for the previous seven years.

He adds that it was made clear during the CAS hearing that the ruling was "only specific to that prosthesis", adding: "If there were any changes, we would have to undergo the same scientific testing all over again."

Less than a month after he had become the first amputee track and athlete to compete at the Olympics in this same stadium it seemed as if Pistorius was set to defend his 200m title for the second time after setting a world record of 21.30sec in the previous day's heats.

That mark had eclipsed the world record of 21.88 set by Oliveira – who won silver in the 4x400m relay at the Beijing Paralympics – earlier in the evening. In the final, however, Pistorius could only manage 21.52 as his rival, running three lanes outside him, swept past in the final 25 metres to record a personal best of 21.45.

For once, the "Blade Runner" had failed to cut a swathe through his Paralympic opposition, and the capacity crowd which had acclaimed Pistorius so loudly registered the shock victory with something close to a murmur of surprise.

Now the 25-year-old from Sandton, Johannesburg, finds himself in an awkward spot as he looks ahead to the defence of his individual 100m and 400m titles.

Oscar Pistorius_Nike_advert

Amidst all the arguments about Pistorius' advantages or disadvantages, what has never been in doubt is the quality of the athlete himself, and the extraordinary courage he has displayed in taking on every challenge that has presented itself to him.

Tonight, however, he faced a different question concerning whether he was as admirable in defeat as in victory. His considered statement about Oliveira was clearly designed to erase the impact of his initial comments. But the fact that there will be an official meeting to discuss the matter makes it clear that he is pressing ahead with his case.

And the fact that the IPC are taking the matter so seriously also makes it clear what a complex matter it continues to be to ensure fair competition within the Paralympic Games.

Mike Rowbottom, one of Britain's most talented sportswriters, has covered the past five Summer and four Winter Olympics for The Independent. Previously he has worked for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Observer, the Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian. He is now chief feature writer for insidethegames and insideworldparasport. 

David Gold: Footballers are reviled for their bad tempers, so why are Olympians and Paralympians forgiven?

David Gold_12-03-12_1"I've just wasted four years of my f****** life," yelled Britain's five time Paralympic gold medallist Jody Cundy (pictured below, centre) into the television cameras. Had that been Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, John Terry or even the footballer Jason Cundy, we would not have heard the end of it.

Yet Cundy, a lower leg amputee, rather than be ripped into and psychologically dissected by every member of the media with a few minutes to spare, and many of those without, will probably earn the nation's sympathy.

And rightly so. After all, Cundy's said it himself – four years of his life wasted because he was unable to get cleanly away from his starting blocks, whether due to his own mistake or a technical malfunction. The umpire ruled that it was his fault. Whichever it was, you cannot help but feel sorry for someone who has had something they have worked towards for nearly 1,500 days torn away from them in front of a home crowd at the biggest sporting event they will ever take part in.

The controversy came in the men's individual C4-5 one kilometre time trial. The 33-year-old was visibly furious after his disqualification, throwing things at the floor in the centre of the Velodrome (pictured below, centre).

Jody Cundy_throws_bottle_August_31
As he was forced to accept his fate, Cundy yelled and swore. He had been hoping to add to his two cycling golds from Beijing and previous three Paralympic swimming titles.

The news of Cundy's disqualification was met with dismay by the boisterous home crowd. Boos rang around the arena as Spain's Alfonso Cabello (pictured below, centre) was announced the winner. This was a turn of events: earlier Cabello had brought out some of the loudest cheers for a non-British rider heard here so far for his simply brilliant performance.

Cabello smashed the world record with one of the most thrilling pieces of action of the whole day, travelling faster and faster still, recording a time of 1min 05.947sec. Britain's Jon Butterworth (pictured below, left), racing the Spaniard for the gold, responded, as did the crowd, who roared him around the track, but he just missed out on the gold by just the narrowest of margins – 0.038 seconds.

Alfonso Cabello_August_31
A consolation for the British team, but they will be left to rue Cundy's disqualification and share his frustration, albeit in a more private way.

Cundy's behaviour does bring to mind an important and topical question. Why are we so keen to bash our footballers? At the Olympic Games, they were derided as we collectively wondered, why can they not be more like Olympians? Or Paralympians for that matter?

Probably because when, having been booed by his own fans, Rooney (pictured below, left) screams into a camera to register his annoyance, he gets torn to bits. Yet it is simply impossible to imagine that happening to, say, the swimmer Rebecca Adlington – as I just attempted to picture. There are some good reasons for that. One is that Adlington, even when failing to live up to her high standards and claiming "only" bronze, still receives huge cheers, as do Britain's goalball and handball teams when they inevitably suffer humiliating defeats. And Adlington, unlike Rooney, is not paid huge sums of money. She also happens to be one of the nicest people you could meet – but then I'm sure there are plenty of similarly amiable footballers who have had any semblance of personality or character drained from them by intense media scrutiny.

Wayne _Rooney_doing_V_sign_August_31
So essentially, we treat our footballers differently and expect a different standard of behaviour from them because a) they are paid more and b) we care more about football. Most sports at the Olympics we don't even care about any more. No one was bothered that Britain was eviscerated in the basketball. We should have been, but no one expected anything else.

This is not to absolve all footballers of their errors and blame them on us. One of England's best players, Ashley Cole, wrote in his own autobiography that he almost swerved off the road in anger at being offered "just" £55,000 ($870,000/ €69,000) a week by his former club Arsenal. And we have two high profile footballers – including the former England captain John Terry (pictured below before appearing at court regarding racist abuse allegations) – who have admitting using racist language (even if insisting that it was not meant in an offensive way) in the last year. There is no excuse for any of that, but not every player is like this. For every racist, there are probably a dozen or more who have their own charitable foundation.

John Terry_on_trial_for_racism_August_31
So it may not be fashionable to say it, but we are probably a bit harsh on footballers. The reason we are so disappointed in their behaviour is because football is, frankly, our favourite sport – not because footballers are uniquely annoying. Our second and third favourite sports are cricket and rugby, and we get just as irritated with their antics when they misbehave, like the England team did at the Rugby Union World Cup last year.

Usain Bolt (pictured below) is only loved so universally in this country because athletics is not as popular as these sports. Quite frankly, if Bolt had been a footballer for Manchester United for the last five years, he would probably be quite divisive. He has an arrogance that everyone loves because, let's be honest, it's the good kind of arrogant. It's the José Mourinho form – where you proclaim yourself the best, and it's actually true. But football fans are so fickle, tribal and tense, that they hate any form of arrogance. Put that in the context of an intense football rivalry with the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City fans, and if Bolt was really playing for United, you could imagine him getting roundly booed when he was playing away to these teams.

Usain Bolt_gestures_as_he_celebrates_his_three_gold_medals__August_31
And we jump on our footballers because they are paid so much. Why is this? Because there is so much money in the game. Why is there so much money? Because we are addicted to it, something Sky Sports have so brilliantly exploited, as have our clubs. As much as we may complain about ticket prices, we don't do what the Germans or French do and actually refuse to pay what we are asked to stump up.

Anger at player wages has always mystified me. In France, there was criticism of Zlatan Ibrahimović's salary when he signed for Paris Saint-Germain. Or to put it another way, politicians were effectively having a go at a member of the Qatari royal family for buying one of their football clubs, signing a Swedish player and adding millions to the Government's annual budget to pay for the rest of France's healthcare and pensions. Given our own tax rates, the public effectively make more from a footballer's salary than the player does every week. It may be irritating, if like me, you are an Arsenal fan and your club is consistently gazumped by wealthy foreign billionaires in signing the best players. But in terms of the public good, surely large player wages are a good thing, especially when so many of the world's richest teams are English. Maybe it is just me, but it seems preferable for the Government to have more money to spend than to bring footballers a little closer to our level economically.

Jody Cundy_of_Great_Britain_reacts_furiously__August_31
Oh yes, the Paralympics. So I don't blame Cundy (pictured above) at all for his reaction. If I was in his situation, I may well have done the same. It is impossible to imagine how frustrated he must be right now. But it did make me think, don't we just treat our footballers with a bit too much scorn, basically because we care more and pay more to see them do what they do? And that is a choice we make – not them.

David Gold is a reporter for insideworldparasport. You can follow him on twitter here

Tom Degun: In a stunning Ceremony, Professor Stephen Hawking was a show-stealer

Tom Degun_ITGFrom my privileged seat at the London 2012 Paralympic Opening Ceremony, I saw spectacular fireworks, enthralling dancing and an inspiring parade of the world's best disabled athletes.

It was truly superb and a fitting curtain-raiser for what I am sure will be a great Games.

But through all those bright lights, I saw clearly the shining star and show-stealer of the event.

It was Professor Stephen Hawking (pictured).

It had been confirmed shortly before the Ceremony began that Britain's greatest living scientist would make a rare public appearance for the historic event.

However, it still gave me goosebumps when the most famous disabled man on the planet took to the stage, causing a deafening roar from the 80,000 spectators in attendance at the Olympic Stadium.

It felt most appropriate that a man who has been paralysed for the majority of his life due motor neurone disease could deliver words via a speech generating device with the force of inspiration that no able-bodied person in the world could possibly match.

Stephen Hawking_30-08-12
"Look up at the stars, and not down at your feet," said the 70-year-old from Oxford.

"Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist.

"Be curious."

What followed was a truly dazzling Opening Ceremony from the hugely talented directors Jenny Sealey and Bradley Hemmings but for me, nothing could match Hawking; one of the most iconic symbols of human triumph over adversity.

His voice appeared throughout the Ceremony at various intervals as he delivered a series of new statements and messages that guided us through the show.

But it was his final address that was perhaps his most moving.

"The Paralympic Games is about transforming our perception of the world," he said.

"We are all different, there is no such thing as a standard or run-of-the-mill human being, but we share the same human spirit. What is important is that we have the ability to create."

young Stephen_Hawking_30-08-12
All this came from a man with full mobility until he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease at 22.

Despite the disease slowly debilitating his body his mind remained brilliant and his key scientific works remain some of the most important in history.

His genius has earned him comparisons with Albert Einstein and Sir Isaac Newton and given him unlikely celebrity status, allowing him to appear in The Simpsons and Star Trek.

But his inspirational appearance last night is perhaps his most high-profile to date.

"I was delighted and honoured to be in the Ceremony," he admitted afterwards.

"It was a real pleasure to welcome the Paralympic athletes to London for such a special event.

"To use this stage to show the world that regardless of differences between individuals, there is something that everyone is good at, is very important."

Perhaps the most striking thing about his involvement is that Hawking is not a Paralympian.

He is not even an athlete.

Professor Stephen_Hawking_appears_during_the_opening_ceremony_of_the_London_2012_Paralympic_Games_30-08-121
But he was able to illustrate more than anyone in the Olympic Stadium why perceptions of disability must change.

The next two weeks of the London 2012 Paralympic Games will help reinforce that message as the world's greatest disabled athletes provide us with further inspiration through their displays of courage and true sporting brilliance.

Hopefully the whole nation will also get fully behind the Paralympics to help them replicate the huge success of the Olympics.

The support of the fans and everyone watching the Games is vital because, as Hawking showed, you do not have to be a Paralympian to be a big part of the Paralympic Games.

Tom Degun is a reporter for insidethegames and insideworldparasport

Andy Hunt: ParalympicsGB – our greatest teammates

andy huntAs the Paralympic Flame continues its journey today from Stoke Mandeville, the spiritual home of the Paralympic Movement, to Stratford, which will be the scene for 11 more days of world-class sport following this evening's Opening Ceremony, everyone connected with Team GB is offering our full support to our good friends, colleagues and "Our Greatest Teammates" at ParalympicsGB.

There is no doubt in my mind that the passionate support of the home crowd inspired Team GB's athletes to achieve our greatest medal haul for over a century – 29 gold, 17 silver and 19 bronze medals – during the Olympic Games. So let's reignite that spark and get right behind ParalympicsGB with the same level of enthusiasm and support that we experienced during the Olympics.

Over 12 months ago we decided to join forces with the British Paralympic Association (BPA) to bring Team GB and ParalympicsGB under one banner – Our Greatest Team – with a shared sense of national pride and a shared ambition to make the most of this once in a lifetime opportunity for British sport. With the support of the nation behind us, Our Greatest Team at London 2012 is 900 athletes, 60 million strong. As we share our central London office space with the BPA, we have seen firsthand the detailed planning and preparation that has gone into delivering ParalympicsGB to the Games and I would like to personally congratulate BPA chief executive Tim Hollingsworth, ParalympicsGB Chef de Mission Craig Hunter, the entire support team and the athletes of ParalympicsGB – and wish them all the very best for success during the exciting days that lie ahead.

paralympicsgb 29-08-12
As announced earlier this week, following the Paralympic Games Closing Ceremony, the athletes of Team GB and ParalympicsGB will join together for the Our Greatest Team Parade through the streets of London on September 10. This will be a fantastic finale to an unforgettable summer of sport and will be a chance to recognise and celebrate the achievements of the outstanding group of athletes who represented Great Britain and Northern Ireland at the 2012 Games. Importantly, it also gives the members of Team GB and ParalympicsGB an opportunity to show their appreciation and gratitude for the extraordinary support they have received.

Before that, I urge you to give ParalympicsGB and the Paralympic Games your full support over the next 11 days.  I am certain that the Great British public will once again deliver a gold medal performance in supporting Our Greatest Team at London 2012.

Andy Hunt is the Team GB Chef de Mission and chief executive of the British Olympic Association (BOA)