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The Paralympics: From Inception to London 2012

  • Written by Harvey R. Mayson

Paralympics London 2012The 2012 Paralympic Games in London (August 29th to September 9th) will be the fourteenth Paralympics. It will be the second time that the United Kingdom has hosted the event following the 1984 Games which were held jointly by Stoke Mandeville and Long Island, New York.

 

The first organised athletic event for athletes with a disability that coincided with the Olympics took place on the opening day of the 1948 Games held in London. These were called the 1948 International Wheelchair Games (also known as the Stoke Mandeville Games) and the competitors were British WWII veterans with spinal cord injuries. The Games which were repeated in 1952 with Dutch veterans competing alongside their British counterparts.

 

Olympic games for athletes with a disability, or Paralympics, were held for the first time in Rome in 1960. In Toronto in 1976, other disability groups were added and the idea of merging together different disability groups for international sport competitions was born. In the same year, the first Paralympic Winter Games took place in Sweden.

 

Today, the Paralympics are elite sport events for athletes with a disability with much greater emphasis on the participants' athletic achievements rather than their disability. The number of athletes taking part in the Paralympic Games has grown from 400 athletes from 23 countries in Rome in 1960 to 3,951 athletes from 146 countries in Beijing in 2008.

 

The Paralympic Games have always been held in the same year as the Olympic Games. Since the Seoul 1988 Paralympic Games and the Albertville 1992 Winter Paralympic Games they have also taken place at the same venues as the Olympics. On 19th June 2001, an agreement was signed between the IOC and the IPC securing this practice for the future. From the 2012 bid process onwards, the host city chosen to host the Olympic Games will be obliged to also host the Paralympics.

 

Sochi, Russia will host the Winter Paralympics in 2014 and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil will be the host of the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

 

Trischa Zorn of the United States is the most decorated Paralympian in history. She competed in the blind swimming events and won 41 gold medals and 55 medals in total. Her Paralympic career spanned 24 years from 1980 to 2004. Britain’s most successful Paralympian is Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson who won 11 gold medals, 3 silver and a bronze over a 16 year career which took in 5 Paralympics.

 

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