To witness the Paralympic games is a truly awe-inspiring experience, for the Paralympics are a sporting event where all the participants have some disability or the other. They may have visual disabilities, or they may be missing a limb. Some contestants have cerebral palsy, others may have other mental disabilities. Some suffer from multiple sclerosis, others from dwarfism. They all have one thing in common though. A high level of athletic ability, and the determination to overcome their disability.
The Paralympic Games are held every four years, following the Olympic Games, and are governed by the International Paralympic Committee. They are the second-largest sports competition in the world, after the Olympics. The name is derived from the Greek prefix ‘para’ which means ‘parallel’ or alongside. The motto of the Paralympics is ‘Spirit in Motion’. They are held in the same year and in the summer and winter Olympics.
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How was the Paralympics started?
In 1948, Sir Ludwig Guttmann of Stoke Mandeville Hospital in England organized a sports competition involving World War II veterans with a spinal cord injury. Four years later, competitors from the Netherlands joined the games, and an international movement was born.
The first Paralympic Games took place in 1960 in Rome, when Olympic-style games for athletes with a disability were organized for the first time. In 1976 the Paralympic Winter Games took place.
Today, the Paralympics are elite sport events for athletes from six different groups. They emphasize, however, the participants’ athletic achievements rather than their disability. The movement has grown dramatically since its first days. The number of athletes participating in the Summer Paralympic Games has increased from 400 athletes from 23 countries in Rome in 1960 to 3806 athletes from 136 countries in Athens in 2004.