London 2012

Thrills and spills

Jo Healy blogs from day two of the London Paralympics, where she experiences the excitement, speed and skill of sitting volleyball - in some very exalted company

By Jo Healy.   Last Updated: 31/08/12 8:18pm

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Day 2 of the Paralympics has been a whirlwind of excitement. None other than the charismatic Boris Johnson was in the crowd to see the women's sitting volleyball action.

Accompanied by his entourage, which included the fabulous Barbara 'Babs' Windsor, Boris got involved early on and showed his support for GB, who were up against Ukraine in their Paralympic debut.

I was lucky enough to have a quick chat with the Mayor of London and Babs after the match, and they were completely overwhelmed by the incredible skills and speed of the top class match.

Sport is visceral in that it's important to have tried it to understand how it works. And with this in mind our guests took up the challenge of a sitting volleyball mini match.

After a brief warm-up (or something along those lines) Boris and Babs took to the court against myself and Bob Clarke, volleyball manager for LOCOG.

Although I was a GB indoor volleyball player, sitting volleyball is completely different and the reaction times are much faster. Even though I thought Bob and I had the game in the bag, it was our opponents that came out 8-6 winners (we played to seven points with a winning margin of two).

It was a lot of fun and the crowd stayed behind to witness history being made. How often do you see the Mayor of London and Barbara Windsor on their backsides playing sitting volleyball? Never.

After our mini match I had the chance to speak to Emma Wiggs, one of the stars in the GB team who contracted a virus on her gap year in Australia that left her paralysed at the waist.

Understandably, Wiggs was disappointed about her team's defeat to Ukraine, but realistic in reminding herself that Ukraine are European Champions and a very experienced side. "Good to get it out of the way in the first match", she said to me about their nerves. Being courtside, it felt as if half of the crowd had signs saying 'go Wiggsy' on them. Not surprising as her bubbly smile is contagious and brightens any room.

On a non-sporting note, I am a big fan of the GB women's attention to detail. Emma Wiggs and Martine Wright entered the court in pimped up wheelchairs, the union jack patriotically capping each wheel. My favourite feature however was Julie Rogers' prosthetic leg, which is the most chic leopard print design I've ever seen. I loved it.

The excitement of the morning was fantastic, famous faces and of course the incredible reception that GB sitting volleyball received from the spectators. I then flew (literally) over to the O2 Arena for the wheelchair basketball, where Great Britain were taking on Beijing bronze medallists Australia in the women's competition.

I have been a basketball fan since I was five years old, running (or more like skipping) up the court with pigtails in my hair. I had been looking forward to seeing it here at the Paralympics, and it couldn't have been better.

Adrenalin

The hum of adrenalin was electric as I entered the North Greenwich Arena to join the full house of GB supporters.

Unfortunately Great Britain lost to a very strong Australian team, but on court the contest was fierce. The crowd gasped every time an athlete was knocked to the ground, and then you could feel everyone sigh as they propped themselves back up again.

The atmosphere for GB definitely didn't disappoint, and the players used that adrenalin to urge them on.

Although the crowd reduced significantly for the following men's match between South Africa and Spain, I am glad I stayed as the quality of play was world class. Even the warm-up was intense, both teams playing bumper cars with their wheelchairs in preparation for the action.

The cushioned seats in the North Greenwich Arena were an added bonus to watching the live action, and being a basketball fan I could have stayed there all night. That is, until they brought out the 'kiss cam'. Awkward!

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