Spirit in Motion

by Shmuel Ross

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The Paralympics are the second-largest sports competition in the world, after the Olympics; the 2016 Summer Games will include about 4,350 athletes from 176 nations—almost a four-fold increase from 2012, which hosted 1,100 Paralympians. They include athletes with spinal cord injuries; amputated limbs; blindness or other visual impairments; cerebral palsy; mental handicaps; and various other disabilities, including multiple sclerosis and dwarfism. The Paralympics are coordinated by the International Paralympic Committee, founded in 1989 (succeeding several committees that had existed before then), which is the only international organization representing all sports and disabilities.

Like the Olympics, the Paralympics are a competition of people with the highest athletic ability. They should not be confused with the Special Olympics, which are open to all children and adults with intellectual disabilities, no matter the level of athletic ability.

Name and Motto

The name "Paralympics" comes from the Greek prefix "para-" (in this context, "beside" or "alongside") and "Olympics." "Parallel Olympics" approximates the intended meaning. It has nothing to do with "paralysis" or "paraplegia." Its motto was "Mind, Body, Spirit" from 1994 through 2003, and is now "Spirit in Motion."


The 2016 Summer Games feature events in 23 sports, 18 of which are also Olympic sports: Archery, Athletics (Track and Field), Wheelchair Basketball, Cycling Road, Cycling Track, Canoe Sprint, Equestrian, Wheelchair Fencing, soccer 5-a-side, soccer 7-a-side, Judo, Sailing, Shooting, Swimming, Table Tennis, Wheelchair Tennis, Triathlon, Volleyball, and Rowing. The other four are Boccia, Goalball, Powerlifting, and Wheelchair Rugby.

Stoke Mandeville Games

The story of the Paralympics begins with Dr. Ludwig Guttman of Stoke Mandeville Hospital in England. In 1944, he began using sports as a form of recreation and physical therapy for veterans of World War II with spinal cord injuries. In 1948, on the day that the Olympic Summer Games opened in London, he organized the Stoke Mandeville Games, a competition for wheelchair athletes. This became an annual event, and, in 1952, it achieved international standing, as athletes from the Netherlands joined the competition. This competition—now known as the World Wheelchair Games—is still held annually, except in years with Paralympic Summer Games. With the Paralympics back in London in 2012, the International Organizing Committee's (IOC) choice of name for this year's mascot, Mandeville, seems more than appropriate.

Paralympic Games

The first Paralympic Games took place in Rome, a week after the 1960 Summer Olympic Games were held there. 400 athletes with spinal cord injuries from 23 countries competed in eight sports, including snooker, fencing, field events, basketball, swimming, table tennis, archery, and the pentathlon. In 1964, they were again held in the same venue as the Olympics, in Tokyo. In 1968, Mexico City (home of that year's Olympics) declined to host the Paralympics, so they moved to Tel Aviv instead. From then until 1988, the Paralympics continued to be held in locations other than the Olympics.

The 1972 Paralympics included the first competition for quadraplegics, and demonstration events for the visually impaired. In 1976, the visually impaired, amputees, and "les autres"—a catchall term embracing many sorts of motor disabilities—were fully included for the first time. 1976 also brought the first Paralympic Winter Games, featuring events in Alpine and Nordic skiing for visually impaired athletes and amputees.

Partnership with Olympics

The Paralympics have continued to grow, and the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul were once again held in the same venues as the Olympics. They have been held together ever since. In 2001, it was officially agreed that all future Olympics and Paralympics will be held in the same venues, with host cities bidding to get both as a package deal.

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