diamond geezer

 Thursday, August 12, 2010

NOT-LONDON 2012
Exploring Olympic venues outside the capital
2) Stoke Mandeville


London's Olympic closing ceremony will take place exactly two years from today. But that won't be the end of the show. Three weeks later the other Games kick off, the Games far fewer people follow, the Paralympics. And they have their their roots in English suburbia, 30 miles outside London in deepest Buckinghamshire. So I've been there too. After Wenlock, Mandeville.

Stoke Mandeville stadiumThe seeds of the Paralympics were unintentionally sown when an Aylesbury hospital was chosen for the treatment of military casualties during World War 2. A specialist spinal injuries unit was set up, whose expertise continued and grew into peacetime under the directorship of Dr Ludwig Guttmann. When London hosted the Olympic Games in 1948, hospital staff organised a special athletics event for 16 disabled ex-soldiers, and the annual Stoke Mandeville Games were born. In 1952 a Dutch team turned up, launching the first international sporting competition for disabled athletes. And in 1960 the competition ventured abroad to Rome, taking place alongside the city's able-bodied Olympics. Known at the time as the 9th Annual International Stoke Mandeville Games, this is the moment when the Paralympics are deemed to have been born. And yes, we came second. Great Britain's very good at coming second in the Paralympics, but we've never yet topped the medal table.

If you want to get to Stoke Mandeville hospital (not via an ambulance), there's one important thing to remember. Don't get off the train at Stoke Mandeville station. They have big signs up on the platforms warning you not to, and to alight at Aylesbury instead. The hospital was originally an isolation unit for cholera sufferers, so was very deliberately built in the nomansland halfway between the two settlements. Aylesbury's long since grown up and swallowed the place, but the hospital retains the name of the small commuter village down the road.

Stoke Mandeville Stadium

I got off the train at Stoke Mandeville, because I'm like that, although almost nobody else did. This is a sleepy Chiltern backwater, peaceful but not overflowing with character. The Post Office is the sort of place that sells Silvine exercise books and Tunnock's tea cakes. The village hall is the sort of place that hosts the Mid Bucks Rabbit Show. And the bus stop is the sort of place that boasts only five services a day, so I walked to the hospital instead. It was only a mile across the fields towards the big chimney in the distance, past a couple of extremely tame sheep, but there were rather a lot of stiles on the way so I'd never have managed the journey in a wheelchair.

OK, so Stoke Mandeville Hospital looks very much like a modern hospital. A huge organic cluster of rambling buildings, some thrusting and modern, others barely-altered prefabs from the dawn of the NHS [photo]. The Spinal Injuries Unit is one of the more up-to-date wings, with a friendly 'Welcome' scrawled across its roof. But I headed round the bleak northern perimeter road, past several staff car parks, to catch a glimpse of the legendary stadium. There it was through the fence, behind the junior doctors' accommodation block, a ring of eight blue lanes curving off towards a distant hedge. All the usual athletics facilities, by the looks of things, including spaces for chucking things and nets for chucking them into. In fact nothing extra special at all, because this is Sport For All, and round here everyone uses the same track. [photo]

Stoke Mandeville Olympic VillageBut not every sports track has an Olympic Village attached. Most of it is bungalows, obviously, in a none-too fetching shade of sludge-brown brick surrounded by unkempt shrubbery. The village was built for the one occasion the fledgling Paralympics came to Stoke Mandeville, in 1984, when the hosting honours were shared transatlantically with New York. Nextdoor is the two-storey Olympic Lodge, with a ramp, obviously, which doubles up as an accessible hotel and conference centre. And a big steely sports centre, named after dear old Dr Guttman, within which lurk a badminton hall, swimming pool and (obviously) a gym. Looking at the Aylesburyfolk walking inside to use the facilities, and pumping iron through the smoked glass windows, you'd never guess this place had any special disabled function at all.

But there's a proper hint of the old days across the car park. A row of ramshackle white huts, of the kind that ought to house a pack or three of postwar boy scouts, unsullied by upgrade since their sporting debut [photo]. One's the Shooting Hall, where wheelchair athletes won medals for target practice, and another's the Wallace-Taylor Cuesports Room, where sedentary snooker players potted black for gold. And there's an indoor bowls centre too, even though that's not a Paralympic sport any more, because they used to do things differently here.

Disabled sport has moved on big time since 1948, so that when the Paralympics return to the UK in 2012 they'll have vastly outgrown this pioneering provincial sports centre. But its legacy lives on, both around here and around the world. And it's thanks to Stoke Mandeville that in precisely two years' time the London Games won't be over, there'll still be half the fun to go.

Other posts in this series: Much Wenlock, Dorney Lake, Hadleigh Farm, Lea Valley White Water Centre, Portland Harbour


<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
life viewed from london e3

email    twitter    G+

my flickr photostream

What's on this weekend?
Hackney Wicked Art Festival
Fri 1st - Sat 3rd August
Annual leftfield artfest on the
Olympic borders. It's always
fascinating to snoop around.

twenty blogs
853
arseblog
ian visits
londonist
scaryduck
blue witch
the great wen
onionbagblog
edith's streets
spitalfields life
linkmachinego
tired of london
in the aquarium
round the island
christopher fowler
thamesfacingeast
one bus at a time
ruth's coastal walk
london reconnections
uk general election 2015

read the archive
Aug14  Jul14  Jun14  May14
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

diamond geezer 2013 index
diamond geezer 2012 index
diamond geezer 2011 index
diamond geezer 2010 index
diamond geezer 2009 index
diamond geezer 2008 index
diamond geezer 2007 index
diamond geezer 2006 index
diamond geezer 2005 index
diamond geezer 2004 index
diamond geezer 2003 index
diamond geezer 2002 index

my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
cube routes
metro-land
capital ring
river fleet
piccadilly
bakerloo

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
boredom
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters
iceland

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
thunderbirds
routemaster
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
amsterdam
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
typewriters
doctor who
coronation
comments
blue peter
matchgirls
hurricanes
buzzwords
brookside
monopoly
peter pan
starbucks
feng shui
leap year
manbags
penelope
bbc three
vision on
piccadilly
meridian
concorde
wembley
islington
ID cards
bedtime
freeview
beckton
blogads
eclipses
letraset
arsenal
sitcoms
gherkin
calories
everest
muffins
sudoku
camilla
london
ceefax
robbie
becks
dome
BBC2
paris
lotto
118
itv