A Gel Ovations Sports Special Report
The Paralympic Games in Tokyo have burst into life bringing an opportunity for athletes from all around the world to compete in this major international competition.
Much like the Olympic Games, there are winter games and summer games for the Paralympics, and in the same way, they occur every two years, alternating between summer and winter.
There is a range of sports at the Paralympics for a variety of athletes, from wheelchair sports like basketball and tennis, to other disability sports including swimming, skiing, archery, and biathlon.
Of course, the sports equipment for the Paralympics can be modified to suit a particular athlete and their needs. But how and when did it all begin?
Origin of the Paralympic Games
Parasports have existed for over one hundred years, with some of the first sports clubs for athletes with impaired hearing dating back to 1888 in Germany.
It wasn’t until after the end of the Second World War that these were widely introduced. Sports clubs for disabled athletes were more widely created to help civilians and war veterans who had been injured during the war to exercise and enjoy sports as they once had before.
In Britain, in 1944, Dr Ludwig Guttmann was the first person to open a spinal injuries centre, founded at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital. Over time, this centre evolved to become a place for recreational sport for these patients, and then a place for competitive sport.
Stoke Mandeville Games
In 1948, the Olympic Games were held in London, and at the same time, Dr Guttmann organised the very first competition for wheelchair athletes at the centre, called the Stoke Mandeville Games; a true milestone in the history of the Paralympics.
Only 16 competitors took part, both men and women, who competed in archery. Four years later, in 1952, injured Dutch service people joined the movement, and this created the first-ever International Stoke Mandeville Games.
The very first Paralympic Games
The games in Britain, then became the Paralympic Games, and the very first of which took place in Rome, in 1960.
The growth between the first Stoke Mandeville Games and now in Rome was huge, with 400 athletes competing compared to 16, and from 23 countries, rather than just one.
They have been held alongside the Olympics every four years initially, with the first Winter Games for disabled athletes taking place in Sweden in 1976.
As we know the games now occur in the same city where the Olympic Games are held, usually over a fortnight of competition. This trend to use the same location only started in 1988 for the summer games, and since 1992 for the winter games.
Growth of the Games
From the very first games in Stoke Mandeville where athletes could only compete in archery, there are now 28 Paralympic events; 22 in the summer, and 6 in the winter games.
From just British service people, the British and Dutch competitors, athletes from 159 nations now take part in the Paralympic games.
Many improvements in disabled sports equipment technology. For wheelchair athletics, for example, athletes don’t just use a standard wheelchair. They need to use ones that are designed to be streamlined and where the athlete themselves isn’t sitting in a typical wheelchair position.
For our part Gel Ovations Sports work with many disabled sports athletes to ensure they compete in maximum comfort and are free from pressure injuries so that they can focus fully on their events in training and in competition. Find out more here
Paralympic disability classifications
The athletes that take part and compete in the games, do so in six groups or classifications of disability. These categories are:
- Cerebral palsy
- Visual impairment
- Spinal cord injuries
- Intellectual disability
- ‘Les autres’ (for those athletes who do not fit into one of the other classifications)
Within each of the classification groups, the athletes are further divided into groups based on the extent of their disability and the type of disability.
Individual athletes could be reclassified if they compete in competitions later down the line, if they have the extent of their disability changes, such as being partly visually impaired, to then being completely visually impaired.
Prior to there being any games for disabled athletes, athletes with disabilities did compete in the Olympic Games before the Paralympics existed.
One of the first to do so was a gymnast from Germany called George Eysrer, who in 1094, competed with one artificial leg. Hungarian amputee Karoly Takacs took part in the Olympic shooting events in 1948 and the 1952 games.
Names and mottos
The name Paralympic wasn’t used until the Seoul games of 1988. It was originally named as Paraplegic, due to its connection to those with spine injuries and combining the world Olympic.
However, to be more inclusive, this was changed to be more representative of those with other kinds of disabilities. Paralympics is derived from a Greek word, that means ‘alongside’ which is why they are a parallel of the Olympic Games.
The motto of ‘spirit in motion’ has been used for the Paralympic movement. The logo or symbol has three colours compared to the Olympics five, with red, green and blue, which are said to widely represent the flags of the competing nations.
The crescent shape that the logo has, called an Agito, is a Latin word for ‘I move,’ which seems fitting for games and their participants. In the logo is a central point, which represents the athletes coming together from all areas of the world.
When you come to watch the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, just think of the growth that this great sporting event has had, and all those who have gone before to make it all possible.
Held over due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Tokyo Summer Paralympic Games 2020, take place between Tuesday 24th Aug 2021 – Sunday 5 Sept 2021