Games 'win respect for Paralympics'

Herald Series: The Paralympics opening ceremony on Channel 4 was viewed by a peak audience of more than 11 million people The Paralympics opening ceremony on Channel 4 was viewed by a peak audience of more than 11 million people

The London 2012 Games have transformed attitudes towards the world of Paralympic sport from pity to respect, claim two former competitors.

The Games are proving to be the best in history - as athletes perform in front of passionate sell-out crowds for the first time in history.

The opening ceremony on Channel 4 was viewed by a peak audience of more than 11 million people - the broadcaster's biggest for a decade and a record for a Paralympics competition.

Traditionally, the Games have been met with "pity, sympathy and curiosity", according to retired Canadian Paralympian Patrick Jarvis, who is now a member on the IPC Governing Board. But he said he has been "staggered" by the level of support shown to the athletes during the Games, which he said has propelled it into "the realm of high performance sport".

"The difference is we've moved from my first experiences with Paralympic sport from a world of pity, sympathy and curiosity to what I would consider now as incredible respect and almost awe at some of the incredible performances that the athletes are delivering," he said.

Mr Jarvis, 54, from Calgary, first became involved in Paralympic sport in 1986 and competed in the athletics in 1992.

Remembering his time as a Paralympian, he recalled: "We were grouped by disability, so looking at the Canadian team experience, you didn't show up as an athletics (performer), or as a swimmer, or as a rugby player, you showed up as an amputee, a person with cerebral palsy, or a spinal cord injury. You were actually grouped by your disability, that's certainly not the case anymore. It really has moved into the realm of high performance sport."

The total number of ticket-holders on Saturday, including non-event tickets, was 240,000, with 170,000 in the Olympic Park and 22,000 in the ExCel Centre, which is hosting six Paralympic events.

"If somebody had told me in 1992 and 1998 that there would be a stadia absolutely jam-packed with individuals and raising the roof to a noise that was quite incomprehensible when you walked in ... I would have been absolutely staggered," Mr Jarvis added.

Nine-time gold medal-winning swimmer and Locog director of Paralympic integration, Chris Holmes, praised the work by Locog and the media to highlight the Games and ensure they were well supported. "It can't be said enough, this is ground-breaking stuff," the gold medal swimmer said. "To have packed venues for Paralympic sport both at heats as well as finals - to walk on to that park and feel the buzz, feel the energy, feel one big smile over the Paralympic park - is absolutely sensational."

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