This year, the Paralympics returns to the country where it first began.
The Paralympics have grown from a small gathering of British World War II service men and women in 1948 to become one of the largest international sport events by the early 21st century. The first games were organised to coincide with the 1948 Olympics by Dr. Ludwig Guttmann, a spinal injuries pioneer at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in the UK. They were called the 1948 International Stoke Mandeville Games and, in time, rehabilitation sport evolved to recreational sport and then to competitive sport.
Dr. Guttman’s aim was to create an elite sports competition for people with disabilities that would be equivalent to the Olympic Games. The Games were held again at the same location in 1952, with Dutch veterans taking part alongside the British, making it the first international competition of its kind.
The movement has grown dramatically since its early days – the number of athletes participating in the Paralympic Summer Games has increased from 400 athletes from 23 countries in Rome in 1960 to over 3,900 athletes from 146 countries in Beijing in 2008. In 1976, the first Paralympic Winter Games were held in Sweden and, as with the Summer Games, have taken place every four years.
The name ‘Paralympic’ is derived from the Greek for ‘beside’ or ‘alongside’ and refers to a competition held in parallel with the Olympic Games.
The London 2012 Games will be the fourteenth Paralympic Summer Games. It returns to Britain with more athletes and nations taking part than ever before. As Eva Loeffler, the daughter of the founder of the Paralympic Games, Dr. Ludwig Guttman, said:
“My father would have been immensely proud.”