Paralympics: From Stoke Mandeville till London

medals of the Games in London in 2012 (Photo: London 2012)
Paralympic medals: the objects of desire of the Games in London in 2012. (Photo: London 2012)

With the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Paralympic Games, the circle is completed. Because 1948, when the Olympic Games were held last time in London, is also the actual birth year of Paralympic sports.

On the opening day of the Olympic Games in London in 1948, the German-American neurologist Sir Ludwig Guttmann announced the first sports games for wheelchair users. Participants were war-disabled British veterans who had been treated at the hospital in Stoke Mandeville in Buckinghamshire. The competitions went down in history as Stoke Mandeville Games.

The long road to the Paralympics

However, till the Paralympics in their today's giant form, it was still a long way off. While Guttmann expressed a year later the idea of Olympic Games for people with disabilities - and in 1952 some Dutchmen took part in the competitions organised by Guttmann - only eight years later, the first Paralympics in today's form were held in Rome under the name of "World Games for the paralyzed". Since 1960, the Paralympics are held every four years, always just after the Olympics.


But the road to the Paralympics in its current form was to stay rocky. The organisers of the 1984 Los Angeles Games refused for image reasons to hold the former "International Games for Disabled". The commune of Champagne in Chicago took over the position but later abandoned for financial reasons. And so in the end, some competitions took place in Stoke Mandeville, and others were carried out on Long Island (New York).

View on stadion (Photo: London 2012)
80,000 spectators were expected to attend the opening of the Paralympic Games in the Olympic Stadium. (Photo: London 2012)

Olympic Cities must also align Paralympics

Since 1988, the Paralympic Games are held regularly at the same venue as the Olympic Games and became true to their name. For Paralympic comes from the word "parallel" and means nothing more than "the games in addition to the Olympic Games". Since 2012, cities who apply for the Olympic Games also have to include the applications for the Paralympic Games. These are coordinated by the same local organising committee as for the Olympics.

The Paralympic Games begin at least three weeks after the end of the Olympics. In London, the President of the International Olympic Committee, IOC, Jacques Rogge, and that of the International Paralympic Committee IPC, Sir Philip Craven, agreed that the system will continue until at least 2020. The IPC, based in Bonn, Germany since 1989, carries the responsibility for the development and implementation of the Paralympics.

In 21 sports at the Paralympics in London medals are awarded for:

In individual sports, athletes are divided into six categories and further subcategories. The kind of the disability and its effects on the performance of the respective sport are taken into account. With the classification comparability, equal chances are guaranteed. The six main categories are:

Athletes with at least one major joint in a limb absent.

Cerebral palsy:
Athletes with an impairment of the trajectory and attitude caused by damage to one or more control centres in the brain.

Visually impaired:
Athletes who are visually impaired to varying degrees, up to complete blindness.

Wheelchair Sports:
Athletes who need to use a wheelchair in order to practice their sport.

Short stature:
Athletes under 1.45 meters and women under 1.37 meters of height.

"Les Autres":
This French term defines athletes with different disabilities that affect the musculoskeletal system but cannot be classified in any of the other four main classes.

Handbike on the circuit (Photo: London 2012)
The road race and the time trial in the Paracycling are performed on the former British Grand Prix circuit at Brands Hatch. (Photo: London 2012)

Regardless of handicap and class, the Paralympics are the biggest stage in the world for disabled athletes. Here they can prove that disability can cause some limitations but not rule out a maximum level of the sportive performance. Thus, the Paralympics are a symbol for the potential people with disabilities.

Paralympics - a gigantic event

Such a big event as the Paralympics matches with the potential of disabled sports. After the Olympics, the Paralympics are the second largest sporting event in the world. Four years ago in Beijing at the 13th Paralympic Summer Games, 4,000 athletes from 145 countries in 20 disciplines competed against each other. 1.82 million tickets were sold. However, in London, the Paralympic sports movement takes yet another step forward. Expected are 4,200 athletes from 165 nations.

Alone at the opening ceremony on 29 August 2012 at the Olympic Stadium in London, 80,000 spectators were expected. And at the end of the Games on 9 September, Sir Philip Craven will most likely announce: "Those were the best Paralympic Games ever."


Text: Patrick Gunti - 08/2012
Photos: London 2012