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The Paralympic Games are games played in the style of the Olympic Games, but are for athletes with physical and visual disabilities.“Para” refers to “parallel” to the Olympic Games and serve as the world’s highest level of elite sport competition for athletes with disabilities.
Sir Ludwig Guttmann founded the games in 1948. He wanted to start a sport that involved veterans from World War II. Within a few years, veterans from other nations joined in the competition. By 1960, a formal games strategy was formed, and the once informal competition garnered the official name of the Paralympic Games. They Games are held every two years, with both winter and summer Games being staged, and are held in the same host city and venues as the Olympic Games.
There are currently 26 different sports on the Paralympic Games program – 21 summer and 5 winter. Winter sports include alpine and cross country skiing, biathlon, wheelchair curling and sled hockey, while summer sports feature many familiar to Olympic Games fans, including track & field, swimming, cycling, Three sports are specific to the Paralympic Games – wheelchair rugby, boccia and goalball, a sport for athletes who are blind or visually impaired. Two new sports, paratriathlon and canoe, will make their Paralympic Games debut in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.
Athletes are categorized by their disabilities and these categories are then classified based on the sport being played. The athlete categories include amputee, cerebral palsy/traumatic brain injury/stroke, wheelchair-users, blind/visual impairment, and les autres. Les autres is the French word for “the others” and this category includes all athletes that don’t fit into the other five categories. Some well-known Paralympic athletes include,Oscar Pistorius, April Holmes, Erin Popovich, Rudy Garcia-Tolson, Matt Scott, Chris Waddell, Sarah Will and Jessica Long. Then there is Ragnhild Myklebust of Norway who holds the record for the most medals ever won at the Paralympic Winter Games. Over the course of her career, she won 22 medals, and 17 of those were gold.
Over the years, there have been a few controversies that have arisen with the Paralympic Games. In 2000, some non-disabled athletes from Spain entered the Games and played on the basketball team for athletes with intellectual disabilities. This prompted the International Paralympic Committeeto suspend all intellectually disabled athletes from Paralympic competition until further evaluation. The committee claimed it would re-evaluate this after the Beijing Games, but no final decision has been made. Other controversies that have arisen include the problem of doping. During the Sydney Games in 2000, 14 athletes tested positive for doping, and 10 of those were participating in the powerlifting competition. Despite its controversies, the Paralympic Games are a great way for those with physical and visual disabilities to shine and prove their athletic greatness.
For more information about the Paralympic movement, please refer to the following websites:
- IPC – Official website of the International Paralympic Committee
- The US Paralympic Team – Home page for the US team and its athletes.
- Paralympic Perspectives – Article about Ann Cody, a former paralympic athlete.
- A Chance to Dream – How the Paralympics has helped countless war veterans achieve their dreams.
- Paralympic Sport TV – Website with televised paralympic events and videos.
- Basic Information – History, background, and basic information about the paralympic games.
- Athlete Stories – Bios and stories of some paralympic athletes.
- Competition – How one sport has made the games more competitive for a special athlete.
- Beyond Olympic Games – How the Paralympics reaches beyond just sport and competition and truly touch peoples’ lives.
- 2012 Summer Paralympics Games– hosted in London, England
- 2014 Winter Paralympics Games– hosted in Sochi, Russia
- 2016 Summer Paralympics Games– hosted in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on September 7–18, 2016
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