Francis Maude: What a truly wonderful summer of sport

Anyone who experienced a touch of post-Olympics blues needn’t have felt so down – the thrills and exciting sporting competition have continued since the Opening Ceremony of the Paralympics took place last week. Once again, the whole country is totally absorbed.

Last Friday, I went to see the judo finals. Now, I’m not what you’d describe as a judo aficionado – I didn’t know much about the sport or what to expect. In the event, I was treated to several hours of intense competition and some, frankly, rough bouts!

All the athletes were either blind or had some form of visual impairment but I can certainly confirm that they didn’t hold their punches, so to speak.

The bouts were short – a maximum of five minutes but many finished earlier, some within a minute.

The last final, for the men’s under 81kg gold medal, had the whole arena on the edge of their seats – a tie after the first five minutes which could only be settled with a golden score – the first to score wins! An absolute nail-biter.

I was honoured to present the flowers in the victory ceremonies for two of the women’s events – below 57kg and below 63kg.

It was a real privilege to be so involved and to be able to congratulate such terrific athletes. Whether they had won a medal or not, they had all trained for years to compete in the Paralympics.

Organising the Paralympics took years of preparation too. I’m delighted to be able to report that the arena was full and all ran smoothly during the judo finals. This is down to the people, many of them volunteers, who work hard to ensure ticket holders can access and leave the site easily and securely.

The Games Makers also help to generate the fantastic atmosphere I experienced last week. There was a feeling of excitement and anticipation and it was noisy too.

My ears are still recovering from the instructions and encouragement being – I can only say bellowed – by the rather vigorous Russian lady sat behind me and who was enthusiastically cheering on her champion on the mat!

I could see why this is officially the biggest Paralympics ever – 2.5m tickets sold, more athletes from more countries than ever before, including a record number of female athletes.

As I write this, we still have a few days of sport to go but when the Paralympics come to an end on Sunday, I think we’ll all be justified in feeling some post-Games blues. But what a truly wonderful summer to look back on.