The history of the Paralympics, which is the collective term for ‘Parallel Olympics’, dates back to 1948. At that time, neurologist Sir Ludwig Guttman, who worked at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, which is situated in Aylesbury, near London, was using sport to rehabilitate World War II veterans who suffered severe spinal injuries. He organised a competition, originally known as the International Wheelchair Games, with other hospitals to coincide with the London Olympic Games in the same year.
The first official Paralympic Games took place in Rome, Italy, in 1960. 400 wheelchair athletes representing 21 countries participated in the inaugural Paralympics. By the time of the fifth official Paralympic Games in Montreal, Canada, in 1976, amputees and visually impaired athletes were included for the first time. The Montreal Paralympics attracted 1,600 athletes from 42 countries. In 1988, when the Olympic Games were held in Seoul, the Koreans decided that the Paralympics should be truly parallel and they have been held in the same city as the Olympic Games ever since. The Paralympics have continued to flourish, with the 2008 Games in Beijing, China, attracting nearly 4,000 athletes from 146 countries.
The modern Paralympic Games is a vibrant competition in which elite disabled athletes participate in a full program of competitive sports, including athletics, cycling, football, swimming and wheelchair versions of basketball, rugby and tennis among others.
Of course, participants suffer from a range of disabilities, so the organizers split them into six separate categories and group them together within each category according to their level of disability. The categories include amputee (having lost at least one limb), the intellectually disabled, cerebral palsy sufferers, wheelchair-bound participation, vision impairment and Les Autres. The final category, Les Autres, is a French phrase meaning “the others” and is used to describe athletes who do not fit into any of the other categories.
The intellectual disability category has been the subject of controversy in recent years. Intellectually disabled athletes were, in fact, banned from the Paralympics after it was revealed that the majority of the Spanish basketball team at the 2000 Paralympics in Sydney, Australia, had no disability at all. They were only to compete again, after a gap of 12 years, at the fourteenth Summer Paralympics in London in 2012.
The Paralympics are televised in many countries and the skill of Paralympic competitors is now recognized across the world. Indeed, the modern Paralympics creates international superstars in the same way as the Olympics.
Iconic Paralympic athletes include Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson of Great Britain, who won 16 medals including 11 golds in wheelchair track racing between 1988 and 2004 and Hou Bin of China, a single-leg amputee who won gold medals for the high jump in 1996, 2000 and 2004. Perhaps the best-known Paralympic athlete of all is Oscar Pistorious of South Africa. Nicknamed “Blade Runner”, Pistorious is a double amputee who has not only won multiple Paralympic gold medals, but in 2008 was cleared to run against able-bodied opposition.
About the Author: This guest post was written by British blogger Francesca on behalf of All Ability Cycling, who produce a variety of specially adapted disabled equipment, including allability go karts. For more information, visit their website.