Wow, we always knew that the London 2012 Paralympics would be amazing, we “get” and understand Paralympic sport better than any other nation, we even invented it, but I don’t think even Lord Coe himself could have envisaged what would take place between the 29th August and the 9th September 2012.
The World was truly introduced to Paralympic sport, at its best.
I was on stage in Trafalgar Square on 6th July 2005 when the announcement was made. Of course back then I was a competing athlete, fresh off of the back of a Gold medal in Athens, so my intentions were always to compete at London. Unfortunately age and niggles got the better of me and I retired from athletics in 2009.
Just over a year later I heard that Channel4 were looking for new presenters to work on the games, and so my journey into presenting started. Firstly the World championships, New Zealand in January 2011 followed by the Paralympic world cup the same year; but for me there was only one thing on my mind, securing a position in the athletics stadium at London 2012.
Then finally, in the spring of 2012, the Athletics commentary team was announced.
John Rawling and Rob Walker to commentate and I would co-commentate on athletics as well as some in-vision interviews and pieces to camera.
“Hang on”, I thought, pieces to camera fine, smile and talk, but co-commentary, this concerned me. I have never commentated in my life, and have the upmost respect for those that do. Also in the dream team we had Kath Merry, Jeff Adams and Sonja McLaughlan.
So after a month of heavy prep, armed with two folders full of information I headed to the games. Just like the entire team working on the games, day one was a very nervous affair; a couple of hours was spent pouring over the mornings start lists and then up to the commentary position at 9.30am. A quick mic check, and I was off to the in-vision position for my first piece to camera. All good.
Now the bit I was dreading my first race. Shelly woods in the women’s T54 5000m. Brilliant!!!
Like I am an expert on wheelchair racing! Rob set the race off and half way into lap two...
“So Dan, Shelly looks comfortable at the moment, is this a good tactic for her to sit in the pack ?”
Well we can safely say that I don’t think I will be winning any awards for that commentary. And I was left wondering what 10 days of bad commentating would do for my reputation.
As the first Brits started to compete on day one of the Athletics, A surge of disappointment came over me. I want my roar of 80,000 people. 12 years of international athletics and never once did I experience anything like that, should I have tried to make the team? After all I have spent twelve years as a motivational speaker telling people that you should go after your dreams, the only regrets in life are if you don’t try to achieve your goals, rather than trying and not making it.
But my disappointment soon turned to excitement as I realized that I would experience the Olympic stadium twice a day for 10 days, and get that buzz I had as an athlete every time the camera or microphone was switched on.
Thankfully my commentary improved, and to my astonishment I actually enjoyed it. What a privilege to work alongside John, Rob and Katherine in the box during the biggest races in Paralympic history and then have the opportunity to summarize the atmosphere in the stadium to the TV audience.
Don’t be fooled that it was all fun though. Those were very long days. The athletics team would arrive at 8am; we would prep for 1 1/2hrs before the morning session. Once off air at 1.30pm, we would grab some lunch then start the evening prep around 3pm, the evening session would then run from about 7-10.30pm. But I don’t think I have ever laughed so much. It was a privilege to work with such a great team. “Team”, that is what we were, we travelled into the stadium together, prepped together, ate together and travelled back to the hotel together. And still we laughed….. a lot.
I always believed that we would host an amazing Olympic games, and deliver the best Paralympics ever, but in my wildest dreams I could never have imagined those 10 days! Over 1.5 million people went through the athletics stadium alone. Britain engaged the world with a sport that I and many of my counterparts have tried to carry forward for many years.
New heros were created.
We changed peoples views on disability in this country forever.
I have many iconic images from the games, locked in my head, but the biggest did not occur on the track. It was after David Weir had won his forth-gold medal in the marathon. The image of him on the mall, the Union Jack out behind him, his son on his lap with the medal around his neck and in the back ground Buckingham Palace. When you looked into David’s eyes he was emotionally and physically exhausted, he had nothing left to give.
We asked our Paralympians to deliver and they did.