I didn't go to the Paralympics yesterday. I think I deserve a couple of days off. But that gives me time to tell you about Sunday in Woolwich.
Archery/Shooting - the venue: Royal Artillery Barracks, Woolwich Another part of southeast London, another chunk of public land acquired for the Games. For the pointy/shooty events that's the top end of Barrack Field and the bottom of Woolwich Common, where a road's been sealed off and a series of temporary structures erected. For archery that's three grandstands and a long green backscreen, nothing special. But for the shooting three futuristicblobby cuboids have been perched on the grass as if Woolwich were Tellytubbyland. Hardly. The larger two buildings (in terms of area) are the pistol and rifle ranges where the body of competition takes place. The other building is the tallest of the three, and that's the Finals Hall. This landmark building is decorated with random orange circles, inside which competitions requiring the largest audience take place, and which is kitted out for medalling. Spectators enter through one of the protruding holes (appropriately, next to the existing street sign for "Circular Way"). Inside are black-screened tunnels and metal staircases leading up and up and up to the main grandstand. This takes up the majority of the building, sloping down at what feels like 45 degrees to give everyone a clear view of the single line of shooters below. The targets are positioned inside a low annexe, rifle targets closer, pistol targets further away - the latter completely invisible from the rear of the stand except on big screens positioned on the front wall. Essentially the building's a giant cinema relaying (via a series of circular graphics) the micro-scaled competition taking place at ground level. I'm not sure what I was expecting to find behind the knobbly white façade, but it certainly wasn't this.
Archery - the event: Men's and Women'sIndividual Recurve - Standing (¼ finals) More by accident than design, archery's the only sport I'm due to see at both the Olympics and the Paralympics. And what a contrast. Olympic Archery took place on the pitch at Lords, in a rarefied atmosphere beside the famous pavilion. Paralympic Archery takes place in uptown Woolwich, a short distance from a blocky housing estate and an army barracks. But the sport itself, as you'd hope, was remarkably similar. The athletes emerge in pairs and take turns to fire sets of three arrows, until someone's won enough sets and the other is knocked out. We watched (and practised our mental arithmetic) as a variety of talents presented themselves. Some matches were astonishing displays of accuracy, lots of 10s and 9s, which is damned impressive at a distance of 70m. Others were a little more hit and miss, which might have been the wind, or might have been because these are only the quarter finals. The single British archer was wiped out in straight sets, much to the disappointment of the crowd who'd hoped to have more to cheer amongst a cavalcade of Pan-Asian athletes. But where Woolwich proved genuinely different was in the challenges being overcome by the participants. Although not all their disabilities were visible, many couldn't walk without support and shot all their arrows from a seated position. American Eric Bennett amazed the audience by firing his bow and arrow despite having only one arm. At first it looked as if he was holding the string in his teeth, but closer inspection revealed a hook strapped to his arm, and a release switch powered by his mouth. Wham, his first arrow was a 10, and a continuing talented performance led him safely to the semis. That's as far as he'd get, with the podium filled the following day by three Russians, but fourth in the world sure isn't bad.
Shooting - the event: Mixed Air Rifle ST SH2 Day Passes are wonderful tickets, concocted to try to ensure that Paralympic venues remain mostly full. In this case my Archery ticket allowed me into the shooting over the road, while others had Shooting tickets vice versa. Just as well, in this case, because the noon shooting final was so brief you'd have felt cheated to have paid for only that. By the time the Archery crowd had trooped across to the Finals Hall we'd already missed the film explaining how the scoring worked (Dear LOCOG, you play these too early, and only once - not ideal). So good were these rifle shooters that they invariably scored ten point something, with 10.9 being a "perfect score". All that we could do was wait while they all aimed, and watch to see each score appear on a target display, and applaud anything close to eleven. And oh, only ten shots each, so the whole thing was over in only twenty minutes. The session length was almost doubled by the medal presentation, performed with the usual aplomb we've come to expect from the LOCOG Ceremonies team. Away with the rifle stands, out with the staging, and to pass the time a Scots military band playing a bouncy Greensleeves. Again it was the walk, or otherwise, to the podium which revealed the reasons none of the medallists had been standing. Presentations; anthem; flags. And within minutes the big white cuboid was empty again, as it will be tomorrow after the final final... and then the temporary venue will be taken down and shipped elsewhere so that Woolwich Common can return to normal once more.
Shooting - the 'event': Mixed 25m Pistol Precision - Training It only said "training", but it was on the list of sessions so many of us wandered round to the blue bobbly building to spectate. Inside we found a very low grandstand facing a row of twelve seated shooters, so we sat in expectation. Visually speaking it wasn't the most exciting place to wait, not unless you liked watching numbers slowly appearing on screens. Audibly, however, blimey! The crack of gunfire when the first bloke fired his pistol was extreme, and over the next couple of minutes there were fifty-nine further shots to come. Although the rifles earlier had been relatively quiet, these pistols were like being at the heart of a Manhattan shootout. Too late I spotted that all the athletes and officials in here were wearing muffling headphones... including, thankfully, the girl who gave out the earplugs. One free gift for every spectator - very much appreciated - even if some wore them for only a few minutes before getting agitated (or bored) and wandering out. So, er, just training then. You see allsorts at these Paralympics, and I suspect I ain't seen nothing yet.