The Paralympics – and why I don’t understand some cycling fans

I loved the Olympics, and was walking around in a daze of happiness, with a huge grin all over my face, and I always knew I’d love the Paralympics too, but I didn’t realise HOW much I would.  To me, it’s been even better, even more accessible, even more inspirational.  Part of that is down to Channel 4’s really excellent coverage of the Games, which emphasises the stories and personalities of the athletes, and (to me) gets the tone exactly right, balancing explaining the disabilities and the sports with celebrating the achievements with making sure we all know how damn hard these people have had to work to get here.  So I’m very happy – but I’m also genuinely confused about what it seems to be showing about some British cycling fans.

I stress British, because I know some countries – notably the USA – aren’t showing the Paralympics at all, and that’s just shitty for fans and disrespectful to their amazing athletes.  If you’re in a country that’s not showing these excellent Games, check out Channel 4’s youtube.  It’s Brit-centric, understandably, but it’s full of highlights videos.  As a start, here’s Sarah Storey winning the C5 Individual Pursuit on day 1.

But here’s where my rant starts.  Ever since it was announced that the Individual Pursuit was out of the Olympics, there’s been a vocal set of fans complaining about it, responding by rubbishing the omnium, and generally being angry.  And a lot of track fans like me have rants about how we don’t get to see all the Track World Cups etc.  So I honestly assumed that all these people would be watching the Paralympic cycling – after all, it’s the same Individual Pursuit and kilo (500m for the women) as in the World Cups etc, AND there’s more of each, with the different Paralympic categories – it’s perfect!  And what better way to campaign for the events to go back into the Olympics than to say “Isn’t this great?  Bring it back!”

And then you have the Para-cycling specific events – for instance, the tandem sprinting, with a blind/visually impaired stoker and a sighted pilot, where they’re using all the same tactics as the able-bodied track sprinters do – breath-taking swooping down the banking, feinting and swerving with the back wheels to put off the rider behind them, crazy turns of speeds – but on a tandem!

Then there’s the road events, with hand-cycling and trike racing alongside the bicycle road races and ITTs.  So many amazing moments, with incredible stories, too.   Sarah Storey won her 22nd Paralympic medal – 4 golds in 4 races in London!  Aussie Carol Cooke wrote a fantasic blog about winning the T1-3 trike time trial, and the camaraderie between the trike racers! Brits Karen Darke and Rachel Morris crossed the line holding hands in the H1-3 hand-cycling road race, because they wanted to share the bronze medal, behind the USA’s Muffy Davis and Monica Bascio!  And the media here is in love with Alex Zenardi, a former Formula 1 driver who turned to handcycling after a F1 accident left him partially paralysed.

And that’s before you even start on the other events – the skills of the BVI 5-aside footballers, the wheelchair racing that has the same tactics and excitement of cycling, the sheer craziness of wheelchair rugby, aka Murderball.  All of this is shown on Channel 4 interspersed with the stories of the athletes, told in ways that feel more accessible/familiar/inspiring than the able-bodied Olympians’ stories were.  That’s been a common theme, from the Paralympics-loving twitterati – these athletes are truly inspirational, and that’s genuinely not meant in any kind of patronising way at all.

So I genuinely don’t understand why this sub-section of Brits who are SO vocal about their cycling fandom, aren’t watching the Games.  Honestly, if you’re in the UK, you have to actively go out of your way to miss the Paralympics, it’s all over the tv, newspapers, radio, internet – even billboards.  I’ve always assumed that the stories are what pull in all the fans – and that cycling is cycling, it doesn’t matter who’s doing it.  Is it because the IPs are that little bit slower, in Para-cycling?  But Storey’s times are so ridiculously fast, they’d be good for any of the Track World Cups.  Or is it because there’s an assumption the racing isn’t as competitive?  Well, surely you’d watch one or two events to find out?

I know it’s a busy time for people – real-life commitments get in the way, and with the Vuelta on at the same time, it’s hard to fit in all the brilliant cycling – and as I said at the start, I know people in other countries don’t have anywhere near as good coverage as we do in the UK, and time zone issues, so it’s not their fault they can’t watch it –  but still, this is making me re-assess what I think about a sub-section of British cycling fans.  To me, great cycling is great cycling, and finding stories to get excited about is a joy, especially with the wider cycling background of doping, He Who Must Not Be Named, and a lot of sourness within the fan communities about the Tour de France.  But I guess I need to accept that for a lot of people, it’s only “cycling” if it’s done by able-bodied men.  I’ll never understand it, and I’ll be continuing to enthuse about the Paralympics all over twitter, and hope that encourages at least 1 person to tune in and have a look – but it’s made me add a new mental category for my British twitter-friends – the real cycling fans and the rest!

If you want to see some more of the Paralympics, Channel 4 have their Youtube channel, and even more videos on their excellent website.  The track videos are here and the road videos here (you might need to go back to those pages after you click on each video…) and there’s lots more information on the general track and road pages too.  There’s lots of information on the official Paralympics site too – see their track and road pages.

And I wrote about some of the women’s Para-Cyclists and their social media – Part 1 and Part 2 – and have a twitter list of the women Paralympic cyclists who tweet.  If you have more recommendations on how to follow all this great sport, leave a comment!


7 thoughts on “The Paralympics – and why I don’t understand some cycling fans

  1. Sarah,
    Well more fool them. Unfortunately I was unable to get tickets for the Paralympics at the velodrome and had to rely of Channel 4’s coverage. However, I was at Brands Hatch for the road racing. To see Sarah Storey win her 21st and 22nd Paralympic medals was awesome, one of the highlights of my year. I feel sorry for Anna Harkowska to be up against such a great athlete, coming second three times.
    The problem is the times achieved by the athletes is not put into perspective. Very few people realise that Sarah’s performances are the equal or better than a lot of able-bodied cyclists. I felt truly humble watching one legged cyclists ride nearly twice as fast as I can when I am reasonably fit and ride everyday.
    Many thanks for all the effort you put into publicising women’s cycling. Your blog is my first port of call to catch up on the news. Your efforts are much appreciated.

    • Thanks for your kind words, Mark.

      It is interesting about the comparisons, isn’t it? I found it hard finding any times on the main Paralympics site, but in 2008, Storey’s winning IP would have put her 6th or 8th in the able-bodied Olympics, which is spectacular.

      I can’t imagine how great it would have been to see the racing in real life – I wish I’d got velodrome tickets, but seeing people tweet about it, and the coverage of course, made it all look like the atmosphere was happy and glowing and crazy. I feel for Storey, because in pretty much any other country, she would have had a spot on the Olympic TP team too – but GB has SO much strong talent…

  2. Nice piece – just one quibble though – Zanardi lost both legs in an horrific accident when his car was hit by another at 200mph, so partially paralyzed rather understates it!

    The OBS were terrible though – there was no live coverage or internet feed from Brands Hatch – we just got the velodrome. Big miss there.

  3. The OBS made a real mess of the road cycling at the Olympics as well, where roadside texters & tweeters crashed their GPS. Apparently host broadcasters just not allowed to put their own cameras in. Madness.

    • I read that it was nonsense re the texters/tweeters causing the Olymp road race problems, as the timings etc were on a different bandwidth. I mean, if cycling can manage the Champs Elysées…. bet the Worlds in Limburg won’t have the same problem!

  4. I love the Paralympics too (sitting volleyball is awesome). It’s too bad they don’t have a wider audience (especially here {USA}). Those athletes deserve to have the eyes of the world on them every bit as much as their able-bodied counterparts.

    Another good YouTube channel to check out is ParalympicSportTV – they have videos of pretty much every Paralympic sport you can imagine, both summer and winter. Only problem is the video titles give away the competition result! But it’s still wonderful watching.

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