Timeline: a history of the Paralympics

Starting this week in Tokyo, the Paralympic Games has its origins in post-war Britain

 A competitor at the 1992 Summer Paralympics in Barcelona
A competitor at the 1992 Summer Paralympics in Barcelona
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The Tokyo Paralympic Games, which starts on Tuesday, will feature around 4,400 athletes competing in 539 medal events across 22 sports.

The Paralympic movement dates back only as far as 1948, when Sir Ludwig Guttmann introduced the first Stoke Mandeville Games for Second World War veterans with spinal cord-related injuries.

Here we take a look at the history of the Paralympics and the key moments:

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Timeline of the Paralympic Games


Prior to the Paralympics and its forerunner, athletes with disabilities sometimes competed at the Olympic Games. The first athlete to do so was German-American gymnast George Eyser in 1904, who took part with one artificial leg.


After the Second World War, neurologists at the spinal injuries unit at Stoke Mandeville Hospital used sport as part of their patient rehabilitation programmes. In 1948, the Stoke Mandeville Games were held at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury to coincide with the London Olympics. Wheelchair-using archers drawn from paralysed British Second World War veterans competed.


The Paralympics became international, when Dutch war veterans took part in the tournament, by now it was known as the International Stoke Mandeville Games.


The International Stoke Mandeville Games was held at the same site as the Olympic Games in Rome. Around 400 athletes from 23 countries participated, competing in snooker, swimming, fencing, javelin and Indian club throwing.


For the event in Montreal, entry was widened to include not just wheelchair athletes but amputees and the visually impaired. In the same year, the first ever Paralympics Winter Games took place in Sweden.


The Paralympics and Olympics were both held in Seoul, Korea – the first time they were held in same country. After the tournament, one senior official noted how the competitors were now being regarded as “athletes rather than patients”.


The International Paralympic Committee was founded.


The 1992 Winter Paralympics in Tignes and Albertville, France, became the first winter games to use the same facilities as the Winter Olympics.


After the 2000 Sydney games, an investigation found that several members of the gold medal-winning Spanish basketball intellectually disabled team were not disabled.


Trischa Zorn of the United States bows out of the Paralympics after 24 years. She had won a record 55 medals, 41 of which were gold.


With the event returning to London, 4,237 competitors from more than 100 countries fought it out across 20 sports. The games’ official mascot was called Mandeville.


UK broadcaster Channel 4 will host more than 300 hours of round-the-clock coverage of the Tokyo Paralympics. More than 70% of Channel 4 presenting team are disabled.

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