Athletes from 1984

Memories of competing at Stoke Mandeville

For British athletes competing in the 1984 games that year was a roller coaster of emotions: from the high of learning that they had a place in the national team at the beginning of the year, to despair and disbelief when they discovered with just three months notice that they would not be travelling to the USA, to doubt that Stoke Mandeville would be able to pull anything off at such short notice, and then finally to the event itself...

Photo:100 metres final; Paul Cartwright is second from left

100 metres final; Paul Cartwright is second from left

film still: Wheelpower

"When I was selected for the British Olympic team in 1984 I had already put four years of my life into it. I was 19, just turning 20. And then when we all heard that we weren’t going to Illinois it was simply the most devastating thing that had ever happened to me in my life. We all thought nothing was going to happen. It was just heart-breaking." Paul Cartwright athlete

The Athletes' Oath

In fact the games were a triumph. And for the individual athletes the sheer joy and adrenaline of competing internationally overrode any earlier doubts about the venue. John Harris was selected from the home team to read the athletes' oath at the opening ceremony.

Photo:John Harris makes the Athletes' Oath

John Harris makes the Athletes' Oath

film still: Wheelpower

"It was a fantastic honour, only one competitor from the host team gets to do it at the opening ceremony and I was picked. I am not still not quite sure why – possibly because I was Welsh and the games were opened by the Prince of Wales. Maybe I had just achieved a certain ‘notoriety’ within the British team as a loud-mouthed Welshman. Anyway, I got to do it. They gave it me on a sheet of paper and I had learnt it by heart in a couple of hours.  There I was wheeling myself up to the stage to make the oath in front of the crowd and I still had the sheet of paper on my lap. I remember thinking, ‘I don’t need this’ and crumpling it up and throwing it away and then I went up and delivered it word perfect."

The Olympic Flame

Terry Willett was selected from the British team to light the Olympic flame at the stadium. He was a former British team captain: a fencer who had already won gold and silver  at the Toronto and Arnhem 'paralympics'. He was fitted out with a gas bottle in his side pocket and a pipe running up his arm inside his tracksuit to feed the torch.

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Athletes from 1984' page

photo Terry Willett

" I had to go a good distance, round the track and then over to the far corner of the sports field to light the flame; and you can’t use a wheelchair one-handed and make it go in a straight line. So I came up with this idea of mounting the torch on a four foot metal pole that was welded to one of the front wheel castors on my chair. So by turning the pole I could simultaneously hold up the torch and steer my chair, propelling myself along with the other arm." 


Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Athletes from 1984' page

film still: Wheelpower

"The Olympic flame was a large bowl over in the far corner of the sports field. Under the base of the bowl there was a man crouching down underneath the frame with a ruddy great gas bottle. I could see him, but he was hidden from all the dignitaries and the crowd.  So I came up in the chair with the torch and he said, “When you’re ready Terry”, and I held up the torch and he turned on the gas and that was it: Olympic flame lit; it burned for the entire week of the games."


Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Athletes from 1984' page

photo Terry Willett

"Anyway, it went off wonderful. It was one of the proudest moments of my life meeting Prince Charles. He already knew me from a push I had done from Buckingham Palace to Sheffield in 1980 to raise money for the British team to go to Arnhem. We are laughing in the photo because he is asking to see my hands, to see if they had recovered from all the blisters from that push. I was dead impressed that he had remembered" Terry Willett, athlete


Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Athletes from 1984' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Athletes from 1984' page
 

Watch archive film footage of the 1984 games including the oath and flame ceremonies, the mens 100 metres and the women's shot put finals and the marathon here

Taking part: John

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Athletes from 1984' page

photo John Harris

"I can remember wheeling myself over from the school we were staying in, crapping myself; it was so scary. There were five or six guys there I had never beaten before. First round I threw really badly and at the beginning of the second I was lying fifth out of six. My first throw that round went straight out of the sector but my second went 28.5 metres and that was probably going to be good enough for the Bronze. 

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Athletes from 1984' page

photo John Harris

"On my last throw I just let everything go. When I looked up I saw this big smile on my mate Kevin McNicholas’ face and I knew it was a good one – but there were still four other guys to throw. In the end it held; I had thrown 31 metres 88 and that was it - Gold medal and the world record. And it was fantastic. It’s really hard to explain the feeling: what it is like to know that at that moment you are the best, not just in Pontypool, not even just in Wales, but in the whole world. It was quite fantastic. I had wheeled myself over to the stadium that Monday morning a nobody, but I came back as John Harris, world record holder, gold medallist, and the best in the world at what I do. " John Harris

Taking part: Mike


Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Athletes from 1984' page

Mike Kenny took four swimming gold medals at Stoke Mandeville in 1984. (He had already done the same at the games in Toronto in 1976 and Heidelberg in 1980 and would go on to repeat this success at Seoul in 1988.) 

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Athletes from 1984' page


He is still Britain's most successful Paralympic athlete with 16 gold medals. Listen to Mike talking about his achievement here


Taking Part: Paul

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Athletes from 1984' page

photo Paul Cartwright

"I’d been selected to do a job and as it turned out it couldn’t have been a better place: to be selected to represent your country at anything, is a great honour, but to compete for your own country in front of your home crowd, at such an important event, as the Paralympics is absolutely unbelievable and emotional. I qualified for the 100 metres final; I didn’t win, I came 5th; but it was just such a fantastic experience. Twenty six years later I still get very emotional just thinking about it. To be glorified in sport is just one of the greatest things that can happen to anyone." Paul Cartwright

John Harris MIKE KENNEY and Paul Cartwright

John won the gold in discus; Mike in swimming and Paul competed in the 100 metres, marathon and relays. Read the full interviews with them below.

 

This page was added on 27/05/2011.

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