Rio starting to take Paralympics to its heart

In the days after the Olympics ended there was a strange sense of quiet around the Olympic Park. There was a stillness and not one that was peaceful and calm. Rather it felt like a lull. Everyone had gone home. The athletes for whom Rio had been the culmination of years of commitment and hard work had left, the thousands of media had gone taking their equipment with them, all those attached to the Games in some way had decamped.

Up in the Zona Sul of Rio – including the likes of Copacabana and Ipanema – were the last survivors of the Games, many of them taking a train up Corcovado to prostrate themselves at the feet of Christ the Redeemer and get that much-needed selfie. A national obsession in Brazil is the selfie.

For a while over the course of the last month, the Paralympics had become an increasingly urgent issue. At one point the prospect of cancellation reared its head. A solution was reached, and slowly but surely the lull was broken. What had been a trickle of ticket sales started to gush more healthily with prices far more realistic, many starting at 10 reals or the princely sum of £2.30.

It was a far cry from the prices during the Olympics. A proud people, the Carioca were not going to be told what they should be watching and doing while giving up a chunk of their monthly salary for the privilege. The IOC, it seems, got some things very wrong and made many assumptions which resulted in empty seats.

As the days ticked on between the Games, so the activity increased. The Athletes’ Village had been a hive of activity during the Olympics with team banners jostling for position. Many disappeared or were left to flutter forlornly in the wind. There was a general feeling of emptiness.

Not for long, though. Suddenly the volunteers were back, bedecked in bright yellow, the security reappeared, though without the massive queues. A cycle lane near the Park is in constant use. A one-legged cyclist from China overtakes a sighted and non-sighted rider on a tandem.

Of course, there is no comparison between the numbers of media attending the Paralympics and Olympics. The main press centre has a quiet, if relaxed, studiousness about it, whereas before you could almost reach out and feel some of the stress and worry as people scurried around, every deadline five minutes ago.

Buses to the Park are busy. It is a family day-out: children in their ubiquitous green and yellow shirt with the number 10 printed on the back. Street-sellers flogging samba whistles and fake medals. Vendors walking up and down the buses with sweets and nuts.

Again, the venues are not full but there is plenty of atmosphere. When Brazilian Daniel Dias won the S5 200-metres freestyle it was, said Britain’s Andrew Mullen, “like swimming in a football stadium”.

The first night of competition coincided with reports of the suspension of the American Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte for his misdemeanours in Rio. His face and platinum hair stared out of the many televisions, though there was no sound which was somewhat appropriate. A reminder of what had been and what had dominated the news. What had not been good.

However, the Park is again busy with spectators wandering around, taking in the atmosphere. The bongo cam is proving a hit once more at the basketball. The Brazilians are loudly supporting their own.

There is still more than a week of competition to go, and then the party really will be over. But for now the Carioca and the rest of the world can look on and enjoy.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Liz Byrnes. After an early career in PR and marketing, Liz changed her focus to what she had always really wanted and re-trained as a journalist in Sheffield. She spent 12 years at PA where she covered football, athletics and swimming before going freelance in January 2014. She now works for a number of organisations including The Guardian, BBC, Sheffield Star, Wardles, SwimVortex, AFP and Arena. Liz’s latest articles

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