Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Olympics and Paralympics 2012

The 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics have been quite a ride!

Everyone will have taken their own memories away from the Olympiad, and BFTF is no exception, which are shown, somewhat self-indulgently, below :

REALLY HEARTWARMING - NHS at the opening ceremony
With the recent NHS reforms threatening to change the very nature of the NHS, an institution that BFTF (as a parent) values almost beyond measure, it was great to see the director of the opening ceremony, Danny Boyle, give the NHS such a starring role. You can see just HOW starring a role here. Certainly sent a message to the US audience!

REALLY EXUBERANT Nicola Adams and Jade Jones
BFTF was charmed by the sheer exuberance of two of Team GB's most ferocious Gold medallists, Nicola Adams (Flyweight Boxing Gold) and Jade Jones (Taekwondo, 57kg class Gold) on winning their competitions. Like Tiggers, they bounced around with megawatt grins on their faces as they celebrated their victories. BFTF wishes them many more years of success in punching and kicking, respectively, the living daylights out of their competitors.

REALLY CLOSE cycling finishes
Some of the velodrome Gold medals were won by the very thinnist of margins, such as this photo-finish in the Keirin that gave Sir Chris Hoy on of his Gold.

REALLY FAST Paralympic sprinting
The Ambulatory Paralympic sprint events were every bit as exciting as those in the "ordinary" Olympics and it was great to see that it was no longer a show dominated by Oscar Pistorius, with Jonnie Peacock dominating the T44 100m final to bring home the gold with a time of 10.90seconds.

BFTF hopes that the future sees Paralympic sprinters getting faster and faster until they are not just the fastest paralympians, but rather the fastest men (and women) on on the planet - full stop.

REALLY ENTERTAINING Paralympic Presenters
One unexpected aspect of the Paralympics was that it also gave paralympic TV presenters a change to get on the airwaves. Their uniformly professional and energetic performances genuinely left BFTF wondering why they were not more widely represented in TV generally.

Adam Hills, presenter of Channel Fours Paralympics related chat show, was a star previously unknown to BFTF- and it would be great to see him more often on TV.

You can find out more about the C4 Paralympic presenting team here.


The Special Olympics
>BBC Four once again fulfilled its role to inform and educate by recently broadcasting a programme about the "Special Olympics".

Part of the Olympic movement, but separate to the "ordinary" Olympics and the Paralympics, the Special Olympics is for athletes who have learning difficulties. The programme, titled "I Love Special Olympics" was narrated and directed by Thomas Leader and followed four people on their Special Olympics journey:

Hannah Dempsey, 24, has Downs Syndrome and is a gymnast and dancer who performed in the opening ceremony.

Oliver Everest, 19, who is autistic and blind in one eye - and is a Special Olympics Judo World Champion

Jonathan Frett, 45, suffered brain damage as a child due to measles - and is a medal-winning Ten-Pin Bowler

Tom Brownsword, 17, has aspergers, hates crowds and finds it difficult to mix in a team - yet won Bronze at the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens

Thomas narrated how the spectrum of disabilities for competitors at the Special Olympics can range from people who live everyday lives to those who require a lifetime of specialist support.

The programme was allowed to develop at its own pace, and really gave an insight into the Special Olympics movement and the feeling of the athletes - who work just as hard as other Olympians to reach their full potential.

One aspect of the programme that really tore at BFTF's heart was the story of Jonathan - his mother explained how she had used a borrowed pushchair once when visiting relatives - but what Jonathan's Mum didn't know was that this pushchair was being used for a child who had measles - which Jonathan then caught and which was the cause of his brain damage. Clearly feeling partly responsible (as any parent would - even though it was not at all her "fault") she commented that the effort she put into his Special Olympics competitions and training was her "repayment to him"

Lawrie Mcmenemy, president Special Olympics GB, commented that "When I got involved I thought it was the Paralympics and I soon learnt how big it is - in America it is bigger than the Paralympics"

And it was great to see "ordinary" Olympians such as gymnast Beth Tweddle, being part of the coaching team for the Special Olympics competitors.

Special Olympics GB formed in 1978 as part of the global Special Olympics Movement, and currently supports 135 Special Olympics clubs in Great Britain, run by over 2,800 volunteers, and involving 8,000 athletes.

The website gives some context for the movement by pointing out that there are an estimated 1.2 million people in Great Britain with a learning disability. A further 200 babies with learning disabilities are born each week.

And Special Olympics GB has high hopes, aiming, by 2013, to grow the programme from 8,000 to 20,000 athletes and from 2,800 to 6,500 volunteers.

This is part of a three-part series on the Olympics:
Comparison of Olypmpic and Paralympic Team Sizes
Olypmics and Paralympics 2012
The Special Olympics

Sent email to BBC thanking them for raising awarenesss of the Special Olympics by airing this programme and for the tone of the programme itself, which gave the time and space for people to tell their stories.


Watching the Paralympics opening ceremony I wondered what the size of a countries Paralympics team, compared to it's able-bodied Olympic team, said about the values of that country.

Perhaps having a relatively large paralympic team demonstrates that a country cares about ALL its citizens?

Perhaps, in contrast, having a relatively small paralympic team demonstrates that a country has a very narrow view of who has worth in the country

Interestingly, comparing the two numbers (paralympians vs olympians) for a country cuts through a lot of the variables like wealth, sporting tradition, conflict etc.

So BFTF took the top twenty(ish) counties (based on number of olympians sent), together with a few wild card entries that seemed interesting and worked out the numbers. ..

Here is the resulting graph.

Is interesting. No?


The African Boycott of the '76 Olympics
Having had a bit of a pop at the BBC over their sloppy reporting of the 2012 University Application statistics, BFTF is chuffed to be able to big-up the BBC over a programme that is screening on BBC4 even as I write this : "The World Against Apartheid".

The programme looks at the battle against Apartheid that was fought on the sporting fields of the world and is an absolute revelation.

One, frankly gobsmacking, story that was told related to Peter Hain, who was a prominent UK anti-apartheid activist in the 1970s. He was accused of robbing a branch of Barclays in 1974 but was aquitted, with his family claiming that he could not have left his house in time. Hain believes that the South African Bureau of State Security was responsible and that they had used a double to carry out the robbery. Hain wrote a book about his experiences called "The Putney Plot". You can read about the incident here and here.

And another event that BFTF has been unaware of occurred in 1976 and was focussed on New Zealand. . .

The 1972-75 Labour government had adopted a policy of blocking contacts with the South African Springboks rugby team. For a country where rugby is the major sport, this caused some division in society and the next election, in 1975 was won by the National Party, led by Robert Muldoon, who had campaigned on a policy of restoring sporting ties with Apartheid South Africa. In 1976, the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team undertook a tour of South Africa. This caused such outrage in Africa that 28 African counties boycotted the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal in protest at the presence of the New Zealand team at the event (South Africa had been banned from the Olympics since 1964).

If you were black, how angry would this make you?

The programme contained interviews with New Zealand sports correspondents at the '76 Games. They explained how they had been shocked to find that many of the black athletes at the Games had simply not wanted to speak to them becaues of the All Blacks tour. The correspondents had trouble understanding why anyone could think that the All Black tour was anything other than a wonderful sporting event! More info about the Sprinkboks in the 60s and 70s can be found here.

On the other hand, a BBC article states that the New Zealand Olympic Committee felt it was unfair to single them out as there had been 26 countries playing sport in South Africa that year.

As an aside, Austalia did not win a single gold medal at the '76 Games and threw such a collective wobbly at this failure that they set up the Australian Institute of Sport - which is one of the reasons they win so many gold medals now !

In more recent times, the All Blacks training has used out-of-the-box techniques such as this Marcel Marceau tribute routine

Image Source : All Blacks, Sign

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