Alan Hubbard: Don’t let the wheelchairs distract you – the Paralympics, just like the Olympics, are all about sport and nothing more
They are simply there for the spectacle, a gala night out. The idolised heavyweight champions could be playing pat-a-cake with one of the seven dwarfs for all they care. They are simply there for the spectacle.
It is the same for the Wimbledon final. Wasn't it Jimmy Connors who once said that the centre court customers would pay to watch it contested between two orangutans?
You get the drift.
My hope is that the crowds that will fill the Olympic Stadium in the coming 12 days won't be similarly doing so out of instinctive voyeurism, curiousity or because being there suddenly has become the vogue on the coattails of the Olympics themselves.
But that they are turning out in droves because they want to be there for the sport and not for the show.
The Paralympic Games have fought long and hard for recognition on merit as a sports event in itself and not as a adjunct to its able-bodied brother. London 2012 is the opportunity to demonstrate to the world that they really have come home.
This is indeed an extraordinary happening. Some 4,200 competitors from 166 countries have been arriving in London's East End many, but by no means all in wheelchairs, on crutches, blind or limbless with stories that tug at the heart strings.
So many in fact, that one doesn't know where to start, but the one etched most deeply into my consciousness is that of Martine Wright (now Wiltshire, pictured above) the subject of the most poignant interview I have ever had in sport. A couple of years ago she told me of her miraculous recovery from the London terrorist bombing on July 7, 2005 when she lost both her legs and was the last one to be rescued from the Circle Line tube train after losing three quarters of her body's blood content. She talked of her dream of becoming a Paralympian and on Friday she will be representing ParalympicsGB in the preliminary rounds of sitting volleyball.
Hers is just one of the incredible tales of fortitude among the 301 British Paralympians. Everywhere you turn as you walk though the Games village, there are moving tales, not only of the unexpected but the unimaginable from home and overseas.
There's the South African swimmer Achmat Hassiem (pictured below), whose lower right leg was bitten off by a shark he had deliberately taunted to get it away from his little brother. A Rwandan volleyball team whose players lost their limbs fighting on opposite sides of the civil war.
It seems ironic that so many of these athletes are here because of something that is the very antithesis of sport – war.
Like Jon-Allan Butterworth, the cyclist who lost his arm in a rocket attack while serving in Iraq in 2007. Or Private Derek Derenalagi, the discus thrower who lost his legs the same year, when his vehicle was blown up by two Taliban mines. Or Captain Nick Beighton, leader of the rowing squad, who lost his legs in 2009 when he stepped on a mine in Afghanistan.
Others are here not by accident, but because of one. In 2005, Tom Aggar (pictured below), then aged 21, a 6 foot 3 inches tall rugby player, fell 12 foot on to concrete in the dark during a party. He awoke paralysed from the waist down, knowing that his life had changed forever. Three years later, he was rowing in the Beijing Paralympics, and won gold in the single scull event.
Stefanie Reid was a rugby-mad 15-year-old when she lost her right foot in a speedboat accident. She nearly died from loss of blood, but since retrained in athletics, partly because her prosthetic limb was considered a hazard for other rugby players. Now, she has christened it "the cheetah".
Then there are those who have battled against adversity from birth, like schoolgirl Jade Jones (pictured below) the 16 year-old wheelchair racing protégée of the most iconic British Paralympian of them all – Tanni Grey-Thompson. Jones was born without a thigh, but has emerged as a potential star of the Games.
I could go on... and on. Many of these stories have already unfolded and there will be scores more to come as the Games progress. It is virtually impossible to meet so many of these athletes and hear of their against all odds triumphs without finding a lump in the throat or a tear in the eye.
But this is precisely the reaction they do not want. All they seek is normality and to be given the same serious appreciation as the Olympians who have preceded them. They need our cheers, not our tears and a simple acknowledgement that what we are about to enjoy is not some sort of freak show but a genuine spectacle of sport.
Wayne Rooney's gashed leg may temporarily have pushed Oscar Pistorious' "bionic" ones off the back pages but once the Games are under way the unabashed fervour which swamped those earlier 17 days of glory surely will be revisited.
In some ways it does seem a shame that the world's two biggest sporting events have to be treated separately. I am not suggesting that, as with the Commonwealth Games, the Paras should be interwoven with the Olympics. Clearly that is not practical. But did they really have to extinguish the Olympic Flame on August 12, only for it to be re-lit this week? At least keeping the flame alive would have made it seem more like a Games of two halves rather than two totally separate entities.
Yes, of course, they are different; they have to be by necessity. As different as the two men who respectively preside over them.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) Jacques Rogge, 72, former Belgian surgeon, rugby player and yachtsman, highly respected and royally treated, if not overburdened with charisma, backed by a retinue of courtiers from palatial headquarters in Lausanne. A man of carefully considered words, he is due to step down next year.
The equally autonomous International Paralympic Committee (IPC) have Britain's Sir Philip Craven (pictured below, right), a 62-year-old blunt-speaking Lancastrian who lives in a modest bungalow near Bolton who became a wheelchair basketball player after breaking his back in a climbing accident. President since 2001, he hopes to go on to Rio, and a successful 2012 should secure that aim.
He is a man of candour, not afraid to express opinions, and makes it clear that he is not altogether approving of the curiously patronising section in the British Paralympic Association's (BPA) media guide which warns against athletes being "patronised or pitied" (somewhat patronising in itself) and gives detailed instructions telling journalists how they should talk to people with disabilities, which phrases to use and those to avoid.
"That is ridiculous," says Sir Philip. "How do you talk to them? You talk to them as you would anyone else."
Quite. Which is why we should look at the Paralympic Games and those who play them with the same objectivity and critical assessment of performance that we did in the Olympics.
Because while what we see may be different, there is only one common denominator: it is called sport.
Alan Hubbard is an award-winning sports columnist for The Independent on Sunday, and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered a total of 16 Summer and Winter Olympics, 10 Commonwealth Games, several football World Cups and world title fights from Atlanta to Zaire.