The Paralympic Games

The History behind the Paralympic Games.

Isabella Rosette, Staff Writer

The very first Paralympic Games were in 1960 hosted by Rome, taking place from the 18th to the 25th of September. The games were held in the Acqua Acetosa Stadium with an audience of 5,000 people. While this was the first official Paralympics Games held, the history of this event dates back to 1948 with a German neurologist. According to, Sir Ludwig Guttman was looking for various ways to help out his paraplegic patients recover quickly. All of his patients were World War II veterans. 

His unit consisted of Royal Air Force pilots, all of which needed to use a wheelchair due to spinal cord injuries. Dr. Guttman organized a small sporting event for these disabled veterans, allowing them to compete in netball and archery. He had no idea he would be creating the next big sporting movement. 

In 1952, a follow-up competition was held, known as the International Stoke Mandeville Games. During this event, teams from Britain and the Netherlands competed against each other. From then on, the games were held every year. 

By 1954, the games had continued to develop, now including 14 countries according to Most of the paraplegic competitors came from hospitals and rehabilitation centers that included sports throughout their programs. A year later, in 1955, the fourth International Stoke Mandeville Games occurred with 18 countries and 200 paraplegic competitors. 

In 1960, the ninth edition of the ISM Games occurred under a new name: the Paralympics. 23 different nations gathered to compete, sending 400 athletes to compete in eight games: wheelchair basketball, swimming, archery, snooker, table tennis, athletics, wheelchair fencing and dartchery, which was a combination of archery and darts. 

In 1964, the games took place in Tokyo, similar to the Olympic Games, from November 3rd to the 12th. 375 athletes from 21 countries participated. Two new games were introduced: wheelchair racing and powerlifting. Later, in 1968, wheelchair basketball was added for women to compete in, as well as the 100-meter wheelchair race. 

During the 1972 edition of the games, amputees campaigned to compete in the games according to Before this time, all competitors were in wheelchairs. Four years later, during the 1976 Paralympics, 261 amputee and 187 visually impaired athletes were welcomed to the games for a total of 1,657 participants. Arnie Boldt, who had been amputated above the leg, was named as the most outstanding athlete at the Paralympics that year, clearing 1.86 meters during the high jump. 

The 1976 Paralympics also introduced goalball, a game played by visually impaired athletes. There were also additions to the races, including the 200 m, 400 m, 800 m and 1500 m. This year, the first Winter Paralympics were held. 

Another group was introduced to the games in 1980: athletes with cerebral palsy. 125 athletes with this condition participated, a total of 1,973 athletes that year. The Paralympics were held in the Netherlands that year and introduced sitting volleyball, which was mainly played by amputees. 

According to, in 1984, “amputee athletes competing (standing and in wheelchairs) were divided into nine categories, while athletes with cerebral palsy were divided into eight, athletes with visual impairments into three and other disabilities into six.”

That year, 2,900 participants from 45 different countries competed, with France taking the victory over the Netherlands in the wheelchair basketball game. 

For the first time in 1988, the Paralympics were held in the same place as the Olympics: Seoul, South Korea. Held from the 15th to the 24th of October, over 3,000 participants from 60 countries showed up. At the games, French competitor Mustapha Badid won the 1,500 m race, 200‑m, 5000‑m and marathon events. Another athlete stood out as well: Dennis Oehler, who became the first leg amputee to run 100 meters in just 11.73 seconds according to In 1989, the International Paralympic Committee was founded. 

During the Summer Paralympics in 1992, 2,999 competitors showed up, setting 279 new world records. During the marathon, a record was set by Swiss athlete Heinz Frei when he completed it in just 1 hour and 30 minutes. The official lineup consisted of 15 sports, including the first introduction of wheelchair tennis. 

1996 was the 10th anniversary of the Paralympics and took place in Atlanta, Georgia. 104 countries competed and for the first time in Paralympics history, athletes with intelligence impairments were permitted to compete against those who were visually and physically impaired. 

In 2000, 18 sports were available at the Summer Paralympics, consisting of “archery, athletics, boccia, cycling, equestrian, goalball, judo, powerlifting, sailing, football 7‑a-side (for athletes with motor disabilities), shooting, sitting volleyball, swimming, table tennis, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair fencing, wheelchair rugby and wheelchair tennis,” according to

That next year, in 2001, an agreement was signed between the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee, protecting the organization of the Paralympic Games and ensuring that every host city would organize both the Olympic and Paralympic Games. This agreement also made sure that Olympic and Paralympic athletes received the same treatment, facilities, village and venues throughout the competition. 

Twenty years later, 2021 marked the 73rd anniversary of the Paralympics and took place from August 24th-September 5th this year. Welcoming six main categories of disabilities, including amputee, cerebral palsy, intellectual disability, visually impaired, spinal injuries and Les Autres (the word is French for “the others” and includes participants who do not fall into the previous categories), the summer Paralympics offers 22 sports, ranging from Taekwondo to wheelchair rugby. 

The 2022 Winter Paralympics will take place from March 4th-March 13th and offers six sports, including alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, para ice hockey, snowboarding, and wheelchair curling. 

The Summer Paralympics took place in Tokyo this year with 4,403 participants. According to, China took first place at the Paralympics with 207 medals, 96 of those being gold. Great Britain came in second with 124 medals, and 41 of them being gold. The United States came in third, bringing home 104 medals, with 37 gold medals. The RPC (the Russian Paralympic Committee) came in fourth place with 118 medals and 36 of them being gold. Lastly, Netherlands came in fifth place with 59 medals and 25 of them being gold. Overall, 209 gold, 230 silver, and 279 bronze medals were awarded at the game for a total of 718 medals awarded. 

This was the fifth time China has dominated the Paralympics and earned first place in the games. This was also the ninth time Great Britain has come in second place at the Paralympics and the United States’ placement of third was the best placement in the Paralympics since 2008. 

As the 2020 Paralympics approached, the COVID-19 virus loomed over Tokyo, many were unsure how the games would be held. By the 11th of August, Tokyo’s daily diagnoses had reached over 4,000, and the Prime Minister of Tokyo, Yoshihide Suga, had announced a state of emergency. Due to these difficulties, 5 countries withdrew from the games, including  North Korea, Kiribati, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu. However, the games still went on behind closed doors and allowed our Paralympians to compete this year.

For the first time in Paralympics history, there were more women than men present at the game. There were 120 male participants and 123 female participants according to Women also led the medal for the United States, winning 64 out of the total 120 medals. 

Several other records were broken during this year’s games, including Breanna Clark breaking her own record to win gold in the women’s 400 m. Breanna was in the intellectual impaired group and broke her previous record with a time of 55.18 seconds according to Her previous record held the time of 57.79 seconds during the Rio Games in 2016. Back then, she had become the first female United States athlete in the intellectual impairment category to ever win a medal. 

Two days into the games, two more records were broken by two teenage swimmers,  Anastasia Pagonis and Gia Pergolini, both competing on behalf of the United States. Both athletes were in the vision impairment category. According to, Pagonis won Team USA’s first gold medal, finishing first in the women’s 400 meter freestyle event. Pagonis finished in 4 minutes and 54.49 seconds beating the previous record by more than 10 seconds. A short time later, Pergolini beat another record with a performance in the women’s 100 meter backstroke. Pergolini clocked in at 1:04.64, beating her previous record of 1:05:05.

The 2020 Paralympics is certainly an event to remember. Amongst many COVID-19 protocols, the athletes held strong, proving that anything can be done, shattering records like never before. As of October 1st, there are only 154 days until the Winter Paralympics and one can only imagine which records the athletes will break in 2022.