History of the Paralympics

The Paralympic Games are the third largest sporting event in the world.


Online Exclusive posted Wednesday, February 28, 2018 – 1:50pm

There is one name that every adaptive athlete in the world should know, and that’s Dr. Ludwig Guttmann. Dr. Guttmann was the head of the Stoke-Mandeville Hospital’s Spinal Injuries Unit in England in the early 1940s. Dr. Guttmann had 16 spinal-cord injury (SCI) patients who were all injured war veterans. While he was treating his patients, he realized that bedrest and being immobile was hurting them rather than helping them. With that realization, Dr. Guttmann started to experiment with moving his patients daily by gently turning them. The results were so great that he later had his patients play wheelchair sports and noticed they were flourishing.

Laurie Stephens of the United States of America competes on her way to winning the Silver Medal in the Women’s Giant Slalom – Sitting during Day Seven of the Turin 2006 Winter Paralympic Games on March 17, 2006 in Sestriere Borgata, Italy. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

On July 28, 1948, the first Olympic Games to happen after World War II opened in London, and on that same day Dr. Guttmann hosted the first Stoke-Mandeville Games for the Paralyzed at Stoke-Mandeville Hospital. All of his SCI patients competed in archery, the first sport of the Stoke-Mandeville Games. By 1950, the competition expanded to 60 injured war veterans and two sports, archery and javelin. By 1954, 14 nations were involved with athletes from Egypt, Pakistan, Australia and more. In 1960, 400 wheelchair athletes from 23 countries traveled to the Olympic Stadium in Rome days after the Olympics wrapped up. By that time, the two sports for athletes to compete in grew to 10 sports, adding basketball, swimming, fencing, shot put, table tennis and more, and they were officially known as the Paralympic Games. This was also the first year the Games were no longer solely for injured war veterans.

Since then, these games have taken place every four years. For over a decade, only summer sports were held at the games. It wasn’t until 1976 that the first Winter Games were held in Sweden, and it was also the first games to feature athletes of all disabilities. The winter sports had less athletes than the summer sports, with 198 athletes from 16 different countries competing in alpine and nordic skiing. These games were the first to allow athletes of many disabilities to compete, and other than wheelchair athletes, the games included visually-impaired athletes and amputees.

The 1988 Summer Games of Seoul, Korea were the start of the Paralympics modern era. It was the first year that the Olympics and Paralympics took place in the same cities and venues after an agreement with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC). The first Winter Games to take place in the same venue as the Olympics was in 1992 in France. Since then, the Paralympic Games have taken place two weeks after the Olympic Games, in the same cities and venues.

Wes Smith of the USA chats to team mate Augusto Perez during the Wheelchair Curling match between the USA and Denmark on day three of the Turin 2006 Winter Paralympic Games on March 13, 2006 in Pinerolo, Italy. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

The Paralympics have grown immensely since they started. Since 1960, the number of competitors for the Summer Games have grown from 400 to 4,342 athletes. The 2018 Winter Paralympics in PyeongChang are set to be the largest Winter Games with 547 athletes from 45 countries. Team USA has the most athletes competing this year, with 68 athletes and six guides for visually impaired athletes. Team USA is made up of 20 women and 50 men. Of the athletes there is one married couple, 17 parents, 11 defending gold medalists and 18 military veterans. Team USA also has two of the most decorated athletes in the Paralympics – Laurie Stephens with six medals, two of which are gold, and Steve Cash with three medals, two of which are gold.

The 2018 Paralympic Games will be held March 9-18. The 250 hours of coverage includes 94 hours on television, which will be broadcasted by NBC. The 156 hours of streaming coverage will be available via NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app for desktops, mobile devices, tablets, and connected TVs.


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