5 Things You Need to Know About the Paralympics

There was a lot of coverage this summer of the London Paralympics. As part of #ThrowbackThursday we are sharing a whole host of images from the past events and we came across 5 surprising facts we thought you should know!

#1 – The Olympic and Paralympic Games are actually two separate entities.

The two Games are actually completely separate. The first international Paralympic Games took place in Rome, a week after the 1960 Summer Olympic Games were there. In 1964, they were in Tokyo, again just after the Olympics.

But in 1968, Mexico City, the host city of that year’s Olympics, refused to host the Paralympics. They were instead in Tel Aviv and from then until 1988, the Paralympics continued to be in locations completely separate to the Olympics.

Then in 1988, Olympics hosts Seoul took on the Paralympics, and they have been together ever since. In 2001, it became official, and now host cities have to bid for both.

There are rumors that one day the two might merge, but opinions seem split on the merits of such a move. Read more…

#2 – The first Paralympics were held in 1960, but international adaptive athletic competitions go back to the 17th century!

While early local or national versions of the modern Olympics began in England and France as far back as the 17th and 18th centuries, the Paralympics Games are just over 50 years old.

Did you know that an early version of the Paralympics began in Britain? A precursor to the Games was held to coincide with the 1948 London Olympics at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire, which is world-renowned for its work with people who’d suffered spinal injuries.

Organized by Sir Ludwig “Poppa” Guttmann, a German-born doctor who had escaped Nazi Germany, and worked to rehabilitate British soldiers injured in the war, the Stoke Mandeville Games were held again in 1952 when Dutch war veterans also took part, making it the first international competition of its kind. Just eight years later, what has since become known as the first official Paralympic Games was held in Rome in 1960, featuring 400 athletes from 23 countries.  Read more…

#3 – The first games were only open to athletes in wheelchairs.

Until 1976 the Games were open only to athletes in wheelchairs. The term was first used in the 1950s and was a pun amalgamating the words paraplegic and Olympics.

But in 1976 many more classifications were added, allowing 1,600 athletes from 40 countries to compete. The present-day Paralympic Games include five major classifications of athletes: persons with visual impairments, persons with physical disabilities, amputee athletes, people with cerebral palsy, people with spinal cord injuries and Les Autres – athletes with a physical disability that are not included in the categories mentioned above (e.g., people with Muscular Dystrophy).

#4 – The Paralympic mascot, Mandeville, is named after Stoke Mandeville Hospital in the UK where an early version of the Games got started.

What’s less well known about the original 1948 games – then known as the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports (IWAS) World Games – is that patients at Stoke Mandeville were pitted against another care facility, the Royal Star and Garter Home in Richmond Upon Thames, where the father of the games, Dr. Ludwig Guttman, also worked.

Less well known still is that the Royal Star and Garter side won that inaugural contest – an archery competition. The Richmond-based patients also won the rematch just a few weeks later.

Regardless of who won, what is true is that without Dr. Ludwig Guttmann there would be no modern Paralympics. Moreover, there’d be many wounded servicemen from WW2 who’d have never survived horrific paralyzing injuries.

I met Ron Hill, now 92, but a man who thought he’d be lucky to live three months after shrapnel paralyzed him from the chest down on D-Day. He considers himself very lucky to have been taken to Stoke Mandeville Hospital to be treated by Dr. Guttmann.

All these years on Ron now lives and doctors at the Royal Star and Garter Home in Richmond care for him, where his former doctor once also worked. He explained, “He didn’t let you stop using your brain. He had you up in a wheelchair as soon as possible.”

You learn more about the origins of the Paralympics at the Mandeville Legacy website, here.

#5 – The range of adaptive sports has expanded throughout the years and includes several adapted versions of able-bodied sports.

Although there are sports that only disabled people play, you’ll recognize most of the events at the Paralympics. Swimming, cycling and athletics will happen in a similar way to their Olympic equivalents. Albeit split into many different classifications, and with added prosthetics, wheelchairs and human guides.

Spectators at sports like wheelchair rugby, sitting volleyball and blind football, who are familiar with their able-bodied equivalents, will quickly realize that the Paralympic versions bear little resemblance to the sports they know and love.

The ball used in blind football is less bouncy than a regular one and contains ball bearings to make it audible.

Two teams of five players play it on a hard surface. The area of play is smaller than in regular football and boards surround it. The boards not only stop the ball from going out. But they’ll also reflect sounds from the ball and from footsteps, which helps players to orientate themselves on the pitch. Teams rely heavily on numerous audible clues, so spectators must stay silent during play.

While the Paralympics won’t be back for a few years, we’re looking forward to the 2014 Games in Brazil and seeing all these amazing athletes! And in the meantime, there are a ton of great local adaptive sports competitions to check out. That includes the International Quad Rugby Tournament here in Tampa that is taking place this weekend. Check it out!

21st Annual Coloplast International Wheelchair Rugby Tournament

All Peoples Center

6105 E. Sligh Avenue

Tampa, Fl 33617

Fri, 01/11/2013 (All day) – Sun, 01/13/2013 (All day)


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