Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Running with No Legs
My fellow expat colleagues and I got tickets to watch the Paralympic athletics tonight at the National Stadium, or Bird’s Nest.
The tickets were easy to get – one of my co-workers literally ordered them online, promptly took a taxi to a Bank of China branch and was practically second in line to get them.
But if only getting to the venue today was that easy.
We snuck out of the office half an hour early at 5pm and thought we’d make it in time to watch South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius, also known as “the fastest man with no legs” or “Blade Runner” in the men’s 100m final T44 at 5:52pm.
The taxi took us to the one of the closest entrances, but then we encountered a massive lineup for security checks. On top of that it was raining and we had to dodge umbrellas to avoid being poked in the eye or have rainwater dripping on us.
The lineup snaked up and down; there was no way we’d get into the stadium on time to watch Pistorius. We joked we’d probably see the medal ceremony.
While people periodically complained to the Paralympic volunteers they’d been waiting in line for ages, or that they were getting soaked, the three of us constantly watched the big screen TVs on a tall building near us, broadcasting the events in the stadium.
During the Olympics I don’t remember the lineups being so heavy. Some tried to jump the queue, as volunteers feebly tried to stop them. Perhaps because the Olympics was over that they weren’t as strict, or maybe everyone’s patience was wearing thin with the rain.
But the line would move periodically and you had to follow quickly otherwise others would usurp the empty space in front of you. My colleagues, used to a more civilized lining up procedure were promptly left behind – this was definitely a China experience.
And when it was 5:50pm, I looked up at the screen to see Oscar Pistorius waving to the crowd as he stood near his block. He was the only competitor with two prosthetic legs – everyone else had one.
They got ready at the blocks and then American Jerome Singleton had a false start.
After they got back to the starting line, the gun fired and they were off.
Singleton was up in front and Pistorius way behind. Was he going to make it?
Perhaps it was his running style of coming from behind, or the rain that made him cautious but then more confident, the man with no legs just powered ahead in time to dive for the finish line in first place.
At 11:17 seconds it wasn’t nearly as fast as Usain Bolt, but it was definitely fantastic to watch, albeit outside in the rain in the security lineup.
When we finally made it into the Bird’s Nest, everyone was scrambling for seats because it was free seating. And at practically every entrance to the seating area, volunteers stopped us from going in because they kept saying that area was full.
We had to go up to the nosebleed section and climbed up to the top… just in time to see Pistorius get his gold medal.
And despite many Chinese people’s concerns or naïve preconceptions about Paralympic athletes, everyone in the stadium cheered for the competitors. They were especially loud when the Chinese ones were in the lineup.
A few medals were handed to China and the crowd proudly stood up to sing the national anthem. Some waved flags of various colours, others were eager to pose with a Chinese flag they’d brought with them.
It was great to see everyone appreciating amazing physical feats like blind runners, wheelchair sprinters and those with disabilities doing long jump and shot put, but also celebrating the power of the human spirit – together.