A Brief History of the Paralympics

The first Paralympics was not held until 1960, but its roots go back much farther than that.

After the Second World War, there were a large number of disabled veterans. Soldiers who had suffered very serious injuries were saved and eventually able to return home, due to improvements in medical technology. This meant that the number of people in wheelchairs greatly increased during this time.

The father of the Paralympics, and wheelchair sports in general, is often said to be Ludwig Guttmann. Guttmann was a German neurologist who fled Germany in 1939.

After the war, Guttmann was chosen to head a division of the Stoke Manderville Hospital, which dealt with spinal injuries. He quickly realized that sports could be used as an excellent way of increasing mental and physical health.

In 1948, inspired by the Summer Olympic Games, Guttman organized a competition for some of the veterans at his hospital. The competition was a great success and was held four years later, again in tandem with the Summer Olympics.

At the second Stoke Manderville Games, the British veterans were joined by veterans from the Netherlands. This was the first international event to be held specifically for those in wheelchairs.

In 1960, after 3 very successful Stoke Manderville Games, the first official Paralympic Games were held in Rome. Up until 1960, the games had been restricted to only veterans, but this restriction was removed, as was the requirements that the individual used a wheelchair. For the first time, people with other disabilities, such as blindness or hearing loss, would also be able to participate.

The Paralympic Games have come a long way, since 1960. The most recent games concluded in Beijing last month, with more than 145 different countries attending and over 4,000 athletes participating. Not only has the number of attendees greatly increased, but many different sports are now offered.

There are still many wheelchair sports, like wheelchair rugby, wheelchair basketball, and wheelchair fencing, but there are also a host of other events.

This includes power lifting, Judo, shooting, and a host of field and track events. One other popular sport is Goalball, which is played by those with limited vision. During the winter, several Skiing events are held in addition to hockey and wheelchair curling.

Like most sporting events, the Paralympics have had their own share of controversy. Most recently during the 2000 Paralympics, which were held in Australia, several players from the Spanish team turned out to not be disabled.

Several of the players that Spain entered in the intellectual difficulties group, turned out to not have intellectual difficulties. This lead the International Paralympics Committee to temporarily restricting all players with intellectual difficulties from participating in the games.

Today the Paralympics are incredibly popular and are still held every four years after the Olympics. The games have tremendously affected the way people view those who are mobility challenged and greatly benefits the athletes that participate.

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