Happy ending for disabled Hackney badminton player as LOCOG makes Paralympic flame u-turn

A Paralympic torch bearer was over the moon last nigh after Olympic chiefs bowed to public pressure and made a u-turn allowing her to carry the flame in front of her family and friends in Hackney, on its way to last night’s spectacular opening ceremony in the Olympic stadium.

Wheelchair-bound badminton player Sharon Barnes lives in Wenlock Street, Shoreditch – a stone’s throw from the Olympic stadium, but had been asked by LOCOG [the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games] to carry the flame in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, at midnight on Tuesday - a “painful” 60-mile round trip away.

Although Sharon - who has worked tirelessly to promote wheelchair badminton in Hackney - was honoured she had been picked as an inspirational community figure, she refused to make the journey to take part in the historic relay.

“We are supposed to be doing this for the community and this is my community,” said 48-year old Sharon, who lost her leg because of diabetes complications, and took up badminton in 2008 after recovering from a stroke.

“I feel a bit cheated even though it’s a great honour to be asked to carry the torch, but I think it’s unfair I have to make a painful journey to a place I’ve never been before.”

In a bizarre twist, a group of torchbearers from Berkhamsted all made the same journey yesterday in the opposite direction to carry the torch through Hackney town centre.

A LOCOG spokesman said the route had been decided according to “individual needs” and could not be changed.

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But after intervention from Hackney Council, LOCOG changed its mind at the last minute and allowed Sharon and her four teammates to carry the flame through Hackney as it left the Town Hall last night.

“Organising for 580 people from right around the UK to carry the flame over 24 hours is a huge logistical operation,” said a spokeswoman.

“For this reason we weren’t able to guarantee a home community slot but we are pleased to have found a resolution, as we wouldn’t want anyone to miss out on the opportunity of carrying the flame.”

“Sharon is part of what we see as a ‘dream team’ of Hackney residents who are carrying the torch together in relay,” said Hackney’s elected mayor, Jules Pipe.

“All five of them have made enormous contributions to the development of disability sport in the borough, so for them to carry the torch here would be important not just for them, it would also be our chance as residents to thank them for their work.”