For British athletes and spectators alike, the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games was an experience like no other.
It’s now ten years since Jess Ennis and Jonnie Peacock lit up the Olympic Stadium, Dame Katherine Grainger and Ellie Simmonds shone both on and in the water, and the likes of Laura Kenny, Hannah Cockroft, Nicola Adams and Lee Pearson made themselves household names.
For some, it changed careers and lives. All this summer, we’ll be asking British athletes – whether they competed in London or not – for their memories of the Games, and the impact that it’s had on them.
Here, multiple Paralympian Stephen Miller discusses how a home Games compares to his other Paralympic experiences.
“I remember exactly where I was when London was awarded the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. I was in Connecticut in the US, preparing to compete in the Cerebral Palsy World Games.
“It was early in the morning when the announcement was made but everyone in our accommodation block headed to the common room to watch it on TV.
“I wasn’t feeling too hopeful – I didn’t want to expect too much. So, when London was announced I was quite shocked at first, but that quickly turned to elation. It dawned on me that not only was I going to witness a home Games in my lifetime, but I could also have the chance to compete at a home Games – incredible!
“I was 25 years old at the time, still on an upward trajectory in my career. Already a three-time Paralympic champion and world record holder, the future was bright. The prospect of competing in London 2012, at a time when I could potentially be hitting my physical peak at the age of 32, was mouth-watering.
“Buoyed by the news, I went on to win two Gold medals at the Cerebral Palsy World Games, and the only way seemed to be up.
“However, in the years building up to London 2012, I went through the toughest time of my career and my life. I began feeling the effects of degeneration in my left hip as early as 2006. That year a was forced to pull out of the Paralympic World Cup, it was the first time in my career I had missed a competition through injury.
“The problem seemed to improve a little, though it was always there niggling away. I managed it through to the Beijing Paralympics in 2008 with the help of my physio, chiropractor, doctors and coaches. I had to take lots of painkillers and adapt my training. In Beijing I produced the performance of my life, winning the silver medal on my last throw of the competition, it was one of the proudest moments of my career.
“After Beijing, I took an extended break from training, hoping it would help my hip to recover. At that time, we found out the devastating news that my dad had an aggressive form of bowel cancer. He fought bravely for 16 months but sadly passed away in early 2010.
“What made it so hard to process was how excited I know he was about London 2012, and how proud he was that he could be watching me compete in the Games. I was, and am still, incredibly grateful that the last time my dad watched me compete was in that amazing competition at the Beijing Paralympics.
“Going through this terrible experience brought home clearly how fragile and temporary life is. It helped to make me more determined to try to compete in London 2012 and take my dad’s spirit to the games.
“Before that, in February 2009 I had travelled down to Coventry, where I overwent an attempted arthroscopy operation on my left hip. The surgery failed as my hip was too worn, after which I was told that a total hip replacement was the next course of action.
“Due to the uncertainties of such a big operation, I eventually decided not to have surgery before London 2012 – I didn’t want to jeopardise my chance to participate in the Games.
“From that point, I battled against increasing pain and reducing mobility, but still managed to win Bronze at the World Championships in 2011 and Gold at the European Championships in 2012 – just before the London Paralympics.
“These performances gave me hope and optimism for the Games. This optimism was taken to another level when I was selected to be the male athletics team Ccptain, and I discovered I would be competing on the very first morning of the Games.
“I’d never worked so hard or prepared so meticulously before. I was in the best shape I could be in. I was very nervous though and knew that it would be a very tough competition to get on the podium. I would have to throw out of my skin and get a bit of luck on the day.
“The atmosphere in the stadium as we entered was beyond anything I’d ever experienced. It was ridiculous, you couldn’t hear yourself think. I was thumping with passion, but when it was my turn to throw, I just didn’t have anything. It was like my body just said ‘no’ for the first time in my life, and it shut down. I only managed to throw a very modest 26.70 metres. I was outside of the top eight competitors, so I only got three throws for the first time in my career. I guess if you’re going to bomb out, do it properly right?
“It was a surreal moment, to know that my London 2012 dream was over in what seemed like the blink of an eye. I left the stadium and was greeted by Team Miller – hundreds of my supporters, family and friends, that had come to watch me, many for the first time. We shared an incredibly emotional and humbling moment in Olympic Park. It’s something I’ll never forget.
“After my competition, I took some time away from the village to process what had happened. I returned a couple of days later to support the team and take in every second of what was undoubtedly the best Paralympic Games in history.
“For example, as Paralympians, to know that tickets were sold out was simply unreal. Even in Beijing where the crowds were big, a lot of tickets were given away. The amount of live TV coverage for the Paralympics was also unheard of.
“Once the Games started things went off the scale. The whole nation seemed to get hooked on Paralympic sport for those two weeks in 2012. The sheer spectacle, plus the performances of the athletes made for a very special experience.Being in the stadium on the night of Jonnie Peacock’s 100-metre final is one of the most memorable moments of my life.
“Despite my personal disappointment, I loved every minute of London 2012, and being the male team captain, I took a lot of pride in the success of the team.
“London 2012 was a huge shift in momentum for para-sport. With millions watching around the world, it seemed a watershed moment at the time. It brought some much-needed parity with Olympic sport, something that is important to everyone associated with the Paralympic movement.
“Ten years on, has para-sport harnessed the momentum of London 2012? It’s hard to say, I think there remain many challenges to ensure para-sport is on a par with its Olympic counterpart.
“The power of the Paralympic movement is clear. Both Rio and Tokyo provided tremendous platforms for the athletes to perform and create massive impacts, but more can be done to ensure para-sport has a worthy platform more than just once every four years.
“London 2012 will be the standard-bearer for a long time to come. I will remember it fondly but also with a tinge of pain – in a way that nicely encapsulates the paradox of sport and indeed life, where we constantly battle to balance pleasure and pain. My lasting legacy from London 2012 was a poem I wrote, which was aired by Channel 4 during the Closing Ceremony. You can watch it here.”