THE BLOG

Has Paralympic Sport Become the Mainstream?

24/05/2013 17:33 BST | Updated 24/07/2013 10:12 BST

This time last year the Olympic Torch relay was just starting out. We watched in amazement as the nation fell head over heels for the magic of that symbolic flame. Little did we know that Team GB and ParalympicsGB would deliver the winning streak we all longed for. Day after day, our athletes mounted the podium winning medal after medal. Suddenly the valiant British underdog was a thing of the past and winning was back in fashion. For a moment we changed - reckless positivity broke out. Games Makers sang directions on station platforms. We started talking to complete strangers on the tube. It was a kind of magic. And then last August, as the Stadium thrilled to Mo Farah's second gold there wasn't a dry eye in the house. It was hard to believe it could get any better. But then somehow, rather unexpectedly, it did.

From the moment the Paralympians exploded into the Olympic Stadium and onto our screens, to the moment Cold Play dazzled at the Paralympic Closing Ceremony, something profound happened. There were winners and losers of course. Amazing athletes like Jonnie Peacock and Hannah Cockroft swept up in the joy of victory and gold medals hard-won. But there was more to it than that. Something fundamental changed last summer. Risks were taken, a moment seized, and a nation was lifted by the power of possibility.

And it was the images of a nation enraptured by the Paralympic Games which were most remarkable of all. This was recognised when Channel 4 won a Bafta for 'Best Television Sport and Live Event' - beating, amongst others, the jaw-dropping, Danny Boyle brilliance of the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony. Channel4 did a remarkable job and their coverage of Paralympians has had a more positive effect on changing perceptions in British society than just about anything else in my lifetime. As a nation, we now see the abilities of people with disabilities. We see people first, not wheelchairs. And the catalyst for all of this; the centre, the inspiration and the thing that made it possible was the athletes. So here's to Lee Pearson and Nathan Stephens, to Jonnie, to Ellie to Hannah and of course the Weirwolf - and to everyone making the Paralympic flame shine bright.

And that brings me to Manchester on Saturday 25 May, where several of the world's leading Paralympians return to the track for the first time in the UK since the Paralympic Games. Elite disability sprinter Alan Oliveira, who is likely to gain more attention than any other Brazilian athlete between now and Rio 2016 - will compete at the BT Great City Games alongside Blake Leeper of the USA and Britain's golden boy Jonnie Peacock. Over twenty thousand people are expected in Manchester City Centre because the event is free and takes athletics out of the stadium and into a very public, open and accessible environment.

Britain has changed. The British public want to see our Paralympic heroes compete. And not out of some fascination with their missing limbs. we want to watch the best athletes in the world doing their thing. We see heroes, not wheelchairs or blades. And they inspire us to believe that we too can overcome. Paralympic sport is now in the mainstream. But the exciting thing for me is how far it remains from reaching its potential.