29 Aug 2012

Paralympic archive: Last-minute Games (1984)

The decision of the University of Illinois to pull out of staging the 1984 Paralympics meant Stoke Mandeville had just four months to prepare for the arrival of 1,500 athletes from around the world.

Stoke Mandeville in Buckinghamshire has always been a major player in the development of disabled sport and in the organisation of the early Wheelchair Games and Paralympics, writes Ian Searcey.

When, in March of 1984, financial difficulties forced the University of Illinois to pull out of hosting the summer Games, the British Paraplegic Sports Association immediately offered Stoke Mandeville as a replacement venue.

Despite only having four months to prepare for the arrival of 1,500 athletes and officials from 41 countries, who had been expecting to travel to the superior facilities in the USA, and with serious concerns over the cost of the event and the standard of the facilities, Stoke Mandeville took up the challenge.

Calling on 35 years of experience in organising and hosting national and international events, a quarter of a million pounds of funding was raised, and local companies offered logistical support. Accommodation and transportation for the visiting teams was secured across Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Oxfordshire.

The tireless work of organisers and voluntary groups, along with the support of the community in and around Aylesbury, ensured that the Games opened on time.

In July, ITN sent Jeremy Hands to report on the opening ceremony, attended by Prince Charles. It was not exactly Danny Boyle, but viewers were treated to an impressive parade of athletes in a variety of eye-catching uniforms. Fencer Terry Willett lit the Olympic flame.

The Prince of Wales’s standard was flown upside down, and the 1,000 doves of peace released were actually racing pigeons. But considering the sterling work done to arrive at that point, it was, as Hands pointed out, the thought that counted.