You may have heard about the Paralympics on the news, or seen commercials featuring some of the games' prominent athletes. But just what is this series of athletic competitions, and how did it come about? This is the full story of the Paralympics and how they grew into the successful games we know today.

When And Where Are The Paralympic Games Held?

Since 1988, the Paralympic Games are held in the same host city as The Olympic Games, shortly after the Olympics. The IOC and IPC have a "One bid, one city" agreement until at least 2032, in which sites are chosen in tandem. All facilities used by athletes are the same, meaning accessibility is a requirement for venues used in competition.

Highlights From The 2016 Paralympic Games

What Is The Difference Between The Paralympics And The Special Olympics?

The Paralympics is a series of competitions for athletes with an impairment of some kind, held every four years in conjunction with the Olympic Games. The Special Olympics is an international sports organization that serves children and adults with disabilities, and children as young as 8 years old participate in their events. Special Olympics events are actually held on every day of the year, all around the world, and aren't connected to any sort of timetable with the International Olympic Committee. The Special Olympics World Summer Games are held every four years, but there are also more than 100,000 other events each year. Though they have many of the same goals, they are two very different organizations, as intense competition takes more of a center stage at the Paralympics, while greater participation is largely the focus of the Special Olympics.

The Men's 100m Final From 2012

More Information

The Paralympic Games is an international multi-sport event that mirrors the Olympic Games. It was created for athletes who have impairments from birth or injuries. These disabilities are divided into ten categories, which include impaired muscle power, impaired passive range of movement, loss of limb, leg-length difference, short stature, hypertonia, ataxia, athetosis, visual impairment, and intellectual disability.

The prefix "para" in "Paralympic" is derived from a Greek word that means "beside" or "alongside." It refers to hosting winter and summer competitions immediately after the Olympic Games. The Paralympic symbol is composed of three "Agitos," meaning "I move" in the Latin language. These three elements, which are in the colors most widely used in national flags, encircle a central point that represents the assembly of athletes from all corners of the world.

The symbol also reflects their motto, "Spirit in Motion," which according to them embodies "the strong will of every Paralympian." The games are governed by the International Paralympic Committee, a non-profit organization in charge of regulating and supporting the Paralympics.

The Paralympic movement began in 1944, when Dr. Ludwig Guttmann established the "National Spinal Injuries Centre," which catered to injured British soldiers after World War II. Because many service members suffered from severe spinal injuries, he explored a new treatment approach for them. Dr. Guttmann firmly believed in the idea of using sports to aid in rehabilitation for both physical and mental health, as they help build physical strength and self-respect.

In 1948, on the same day as the opening ceremonies of the London Summer Olympics, Dr. Guttman organized the "Stoke Mandeville Games" for veterans with spinal cord injuries. Sixteen recovering veteran patients of the Stoke Mandeville Hospital took part in an archery competition.

Word about the games quickly circulated throughout England, and in 1952, Dutch veterans competed against the British athletes, making it the first international competition of its kind. The following year, a Canadian team called the "Montreal Wheelchair Wonders" also took part in the sporting event. By 1956, there were eighteen countries participating in the Stoke Mandeville Games. As a result, The International Olympic Committee awarded Dr. Guttman with the "Fearnley Cup" for his contribution to the Olympic ideal.

In 1960, the International Stoke Mandeville Games took place outside of Britain for the first time. Held in Rome following the Olympics, these events are considered the first Paralympic Games. They were also no longer solely for war veterans, although spinal cord injury was the only disability represented.

At the 1976 Summer Games, athletes with different disabilities were involved for the first time. From four hundred participants, the field expanded to 1,600 entrants from forty countries. In 1988, the title of the "Paralympic Games" was officially adopted for the games in South Korea, and the official governing body was established. In Seoul, the athletes used the same venues and accommodation as their Olympic counterparts, which set a precedent for subsequent years.

There are 27 sports in the Summer and Winter Paralympics combined, with some competitions broken down into several events. Athletes with similar disabilities are grouped together to ensure fair competition. They are tested on skills that are appropriate for their sport, such as muscle strength, balance, and level of vision, among others.

Similar to the Olympic Games, the Paralympic Games also feature opening and closing ceremonies, as well as medal presentations. Since 1988, the host country has given an artistic presentation of its culture through music, singing, dancing, and theater performance.

In 2001, the IPC and IOC formalized the practice of "one bid, one city" in a written contract. The agreement, which is extended until 2032, ensures that the same city will host both Olympic and Paralympic Games. It also provides equal access for both Paralympians and Olympians, emphasizing that sport is a human right and should be practiced without discrimination.

In 2006, the IPC launched ParalympicSport.TV, a web-based channel that livestreams during the Games. It attracted nearly 40 thousand views from over one hundred nations, and their revenue exceeded five million Euros for the first time. In 2012, they also started the "Agitos Foundation," which gathers resources to support people with impairment in the Paralympic Movement. Their goal is to be an effective advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities, using the power of sports.

Please note that is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.