Helen Purves All you need to know about Helen Purves. And, indeed, much more.


The Paralympics: like the Olympics, but interesting

Paralympics poster art

The Olympics have been great - exciting, compelling, energetic... and I'm already running out of adjectives, because in actual fact I'm far more excited by the imminent arrival of the Paralympics. Why? It's about stories. Compare and contrast.

Brought up in Yorkshire (statistically likely, anyway), enjoyed sport as a child, did lots of it at local sports club. Had problems securing funding last year after coming third in the European champion league commonwealth game titles, but is back to compete today using ground-breaking new trainers with a brand new design which... Well they look a bit different.

Um... there isn't one.

Born with a rare condition called glycomylian hydrolomengy, was left to die outside an orphanage in Brixton and was brought up by wolves. Cannot read, write, speak or breathe without assistance. Nearly died after horrendous accident involving Iraqi militia in 1995, but after years of daily physical therapy and emotional counselling is here to compete today using £5.5k worth of ground-breaking artificial limbs made with lightweight alloys which will allow disabled people all over the world to gain physical independence.

See what I mean? That's a story. Okay, not a true story. But let's look at some of the real paralympians: try telling me these aren't compelling back-histories.

Matt Skelhon, ShootingMatt Skelhon
As a kid, Skelhon used to shoot tin cans off a wall. Left paralysed from the waist down after a nasty car accident in 2005, this guy already has a gold in shooting, from Beijing: he got a perfect score in the qualifying round and broke a world record in the process. He's renowned for rocking a mohawk and has also tried out archery and basketball: but in shooting, he's ranked first in the world.

His legs might not work but the guy's got massive guns (fnar): and frankly, the fact that he comes from Peterborough and yet people still know who he is is impressive enough.

Liz Johnson, SwimmingLiz Johnson
One of my best mates has cerebral palsy so I have a soft spot for anyone who can battle through it to become a world class athlete. Not sure how Liz'd feel about that though, because she seems pretty hardcore. Swimming is extremely painful for her and knackers her out - she's usually in bed by 8pm, but despite all that she has enough medals to sink the Titanic.

Her mother died of cancer the day Johnson set foot in Beijing at the last Paralympics: she still went on to win a gold medal, because she kicks arse. She's broken a world record or two as well: mainly because she swims better than a bloody dolphin.

Simon Munn, Wheelchair BasketballSimon Munn
This guy has more medals than the vault in Jimmy Savile's secret dungeon. This is his sixth and final Paralympics, and even on dour old Wikipedia his disability war story's dramatic. He had his left leg amputated after a rather gory accident back in 1989: "Taking a shortcut home from the pub, he slipped and caught his foot in a set of points. Unable to free himself, his leg was severed when the next train passed, after which he was able to crawl towards a nearby road where he was discovered and taken to hospital." Jesus.

Despite being a contactless sport, wheelchair bakkeball's violent as hell (women's as well as men's) so look out for matches. Oh, and the £5.5k ground-breaking wheelchairs made with lightweight alloys which will allow disabled people all over the world to gain physical indepen- hang on, deja vu... Anyway, read Munn's story in full on Sportsvibe.co.uk.

So, could you do that? I couldn't. I don't think I could do *any* of that stuff, ever, in my wildest dreams. And that's just a tiny sampler of the amazing sportspeople competing at the Paralympics: just three of Team GB. I haven't even started looking at Paralympians from other nations.

It would be awful to suggest all Olympian athletes have had an easy ride - I mean Christ, one look at Fatima Whitbread's upbringing and subsequent achievements (MailOnline link - sorry) makes this blog post look overwhelmingly fatuous - but Fatimas are few and far between in the Olympics. In the Paralympics, everyone has a story to tell; the ever-compelling story of astonishing triumph over deep adversity.

For me, BBC Sport's excellent 2012 coverage is what's made the Olympics worth watching: the ability to flick from one sport to another in the same fickle way my kittens fall in and out of love with their wide range of squeaky toys. But one only has to compare the different ways each event has been pitched to the audience to realise the monumental difference between the value of these athletes' stories.

Compare and contrast: here's a trailer for the Olympics, from BBC One. You've most likely seen it already - it's hard to avoid.

The emotional emphasis here is granted by the bombastic imagery - the fast cuts, the dramatic storytelling, the stunning animation and the climatic music. It's a fantastic trailer: but fantastic in its innovation. The BBC's emphasis here (and I speak as a viewer, not as an employee!) is on the impact of the Olympics event on our nation and the variety of sports on offer, not on the athletes as individuals.  Sure, it shows lots of athletes: but not real athletes - it's more a visual TV listings, without the dates and times.

Now here's a Channel 4 Paralympics trailer I spotted fronting a YouTube video the other day.

When directly compared, the difference in creative approach hits you in the face - and that's intentional. The trailer is dramatic in its simplicity; shot more like an edgy documentary the point is to showcase the story, and the story alone. There are no graphics or dramatic flourishes here. Channel 4's Paralympics videos are not all embeddable which is why I didn't put their main trailer up, but here's a link to it - it's called Meet The Superhumans.

I cannot think of a more fitting title. In my mind these people are as close to superheroes as it gets. There might not be 26 channels for the Paralympics, or hugely innovative red button content, or breakthrough web technology: but there are stories. Mind-blowing stories, of amazing athletes. And that's why, despite my general apathy towards the Olympics, I expect to find myself glued to the box for its sister event.

Roll on, Paralympics: the nation's waiting.

Get Adobe Flash player