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Have the Olympic and Paralympic Games left a sporting legacy? Hackney youngsters give their verdict

17:57 14 September 2012

Great Britain

Great Britain's David Weir celebrates winning Gold during the Men's 800m - T54 Final at the Olympic Stadium, London on Thursday September 6, 2012. Photo credit Lynne Cameron/PA Wire

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2012 promoters have long since lauded the Games would be a “summer like no other” for Londoners, and have had high hopes the Olympic and Paralympic legacy would inspire youngsters to take up sport and pursue a healthy lifestyle.

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But now the excitement is fading as the Games are finally over and LOCOG has locked the gates of the Queen Elizabeth Park, what is the lasting impression in the minds of school children from Hackney, one of the six host boroughs?

For young people from Cardinal Pole Catholic School in Morning Lane, the overriding feeling was a shift in the way they perceive disabled people.

Last week a group of dedicated children who gave up their spare time to show parents around their brand new school premises were rewarded with surprise tickets for the Paralymic athletics event in the main stadium on Wednesday night.

They were all very moved by the experience, and Damilola Balogun, 14, who lives in Hackney Road, wasn’t expecting to see people with a disability perform to Olympic standards.

“I wasn’t expecting them to be bad, because obviously they wouldn’t be there - but I wasn’t expecting it to be as intense as the actual Olympics,” she said.

“I watched blind people race and they couldn’t see what they were doing, but I sensed they wanted to win you could really feel their emotions.

“You could tell that because at the start you could see they were nervous but you could see their determination at the same time.”

The blind runners are tied to their partners who are able to see and they run together.

Jennifer Oteng, 14, who lives in Shoreditch found it tense.

“Everyone had to be quiet, the commentators said you have to respect the athletes,” she said.

“I didn’t want any of them to lose, they were putting in all their effort, and then one of them won and she was really happy.

“It’s really changed my view of people with a disability, I was questioning myself how they were going to run.

The youngsters also saw blind athletes, and others in wheelchairs and some who had lost limbs taking part in javelin, shot put, long jump as well as blade runners.

Kenneth Oyenusi, 14, who lives in Lower Clapton was most impressed with the 4x100m relay won by Oscar Pistorius’ South African team which broke the world record to win gold.

“The times they run are close to times people run in the Olympics, there were so many world records broken one after the other that night so it was good,” he said.

“It showed me that Paralympians are really great people in order for them to be doing that, they put themselves out and accomplish things, it was quite moving to see.

“They have disabilities but some people try to put them aside.”,

Damilola was lucky enough to bag not only Paralympics tickets, but tickets for women’s handball at the Olympics too, thanks to taking part in an athletics team where she competes London-wide in the hurdles event.

“Handball was a really intense and hands-on, aggressive game,” she said.

“But the Paralympics was more amazing because it makes you appreciate the fact that you are healthy, you have two arms, two legs, there are people out there who only have one arm or one leg but they are making the most of their life.

“It’s opened my mind to think more than in just a small box, before my mind wasn’t open enough to see what people are able to do,” added Jennifer.

So what about the sports legacy left behind – has seeing the athletes in action inspired them to want to take part in more sport?

Jennifer doesn’t think the experience has inspired her to take up any more sport than school PE sessions

“I’m not really sporty, I like rounders, trampolining and athletics, the stuff you don’t dread going to, like football on a rainy day,” she said.

“But I really enjoyed it because this is a once in a lifetime event, it’s probably only going to happen once in London and to say I’m part of it in some way but supp some of the Paralympians by cheering them on and giving them all the support they needed.”

Kenneth plays football and basketball at school and on courts near his home with mates.

“I doubt it I could be in the Olympics but if I wanted to do it, and put my mind to it, there’s a chance I could succeed,” he said.

Damilola agrees it has not inspired her to do any more sports - but believes it will make her enjoy hurdling more.

“I’ve got the confidence to want to achieve more and to make myself proud of achieving,” she said.

“It’s affected me by giving me a different mindset to appreciate what I have more, the opportunities I have been given to do sports and activities.

“If I wanted to be in the Olympics I think I could strive for it, it would take a lot of hard work and determination and practice.

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