They were two moments of sporting emotion, each of them the result of raw talent, years of dedication to their craft, and a refusal to accept defeat.
The first spine-tingling moment came on Friday afternoon, just after 4pm, as the ParalympicsGB five-a-side blind football team were taking on Spain, the 2010 World Cup runners-up. In a tightly-fought game, Britain fell behind to a well-taken penalty by Spain’s Antonio Martin after 19 minutes.
If the crowd had not been repeatedly asked to keep silent – so the players could hear the ball and the directions of their coaches and sighted goalkeeper – they would have been urging the British team on with every inch of their vocal chords.
Instead, the tension was only occasionally released with a roar when the ball went out of play or the referee blew for a foul.
But only three minutes after the Spanish goal, the ball found its way to the British captain David Clarke, who two days earlier had carried the Paralympic torch to the cauldron in the Olympic Stadium before it was lit by Margaret Maughan.
Clarke dribbled towards the Spanish goal, and then – in a sublime piece of skill – turned the defenders and unleashed the sweetest of right foot shots into the top corner of the net, before a wild celebration.
His team displayed other moments of jaw-dropping skill – cross-field passes that unerringly found their targets, fantastic dribbling, superb positional sense – and there was also courage to match anything the mainstream sports world has to offer.
Clarke himself had to be replaced temporarily three times for a head wound and nosebleed to be tended, the first time after a clash of heads that appeared to have almost knocked him out. Each time he returned to the pitch for more.
The match ended one-all, and as this was the first game of blind football I’ve ever watched, I have no idea if it was a classic. But that one moment of pure class from Clarke means it will live long in the memory.
And then a short bus journey from the Olympic Park to the ExCeL Centre, to enjoy some sporting theatre of a completely different kind.
British powerlifter Ali Jawad was competing in the 56kg-and-under category. His first appearance on the giant TV screens, as he prepared to take to the stage for his first lift, was greeted with thunderous applause.
The moment Jawad made his appearance, it was obvious he was pumped up, whipping the crowd at the ExCeL Centre into a frenzy. He succeeded with his first lift of 180kg – more than three times his own bodyweight. When he appeared for his second of three lifts, the crowd were chanting ‘Ali, Ali,’ and if anything he appeared even more pumped up.
His second lift of 185kg was cleaner than the first, and put him temporarily into second place.
But by his third and final attempt – this time at 189kg – the crowd were on their feet. He was agonisingly close, with two of the three judges deciding he had just failed to make a successful lift.
Jawad, and the crowd, were devastated. But there was a twist to come. The British team appealed, and Jawad was given another try. Again, he fell just short.
This meant he was left with the same final weight lifted as Wang Jian, but the Chinese powerlifter has a lower bodyweight and so took the bronze medal, leaving Jawad in fourth.
Two stunning moments of sporting theatre, then. Further evidence, if any were needed, that these Paralympic Games are not just Olympics-lite, but the real thing.
1 September 2012