The 14th Summer Paralympics, London 2012 opened last night in spectacular fashion, with the British putting on another amazing ceremony with style, glitz, visual technology and of course the great British sense of humour! I love the umbrella sequence – although I have to say, on my recent visit to the regular Olympics, the weather was excellent with hardly any rain at all.
This is in stark contrast to the origins of the Paralympics which actually was conceived back in London at the 1948 Olympics.
The idea came from a man called Sir Ludwig Guttman, who was an English neurosurgeon. After WWII, there was a significant increase in the number of citizens (mainly soldiers) with physical disabilities, especially spinal cord injuries – because of this there was a significant increase in the need to provide more advanced medical technology and care, plus the need to try to improve the quality of life of these civilians & soldiers with permanent disabilities. Guttman could see the advantage of sport & recreation as a means of rehabilitation.
He proceeded to organise the first ‘International Wheelchair Games’, at Stoke Mandeville hospital (note: the name of the current Olympic mascot here, ‘Mandeville’) – to coincide with the actual Olympic games, and spinal injury patients from other hospitals came to compete. This idea grew 4 years later, in 1952, into the International Stoke Mandeville Games, and a team of Dutch war veterans competed against their British rivals.
These ‘wheelchair’ Games were not formally connected to the regular Olympic movement until 1960, when the IPC (international Paralympic Committee) was formed and this marked the first actual Paralympic Games, held in the same city, ROME, as the main Olympics.
Interestingly only wheelchair bound athletes were allowed to compete.
These new games now occurred every 4 years, though did not always occur in the same city as the main Olympics.. the numbers have grown steadily over the years…
1964 – TOKYO – 375 athletes from 21 countries. The paralympic flag/anthem/poster were introduced
1968 – Tel Aviv – 750 athletes from 29 countries
1972 – Heidelberg – 1004 athletes from 41 countries, here vision impaired athletes were included for the 1st time.
1976 – Toronto – 1657 athletes from 32 countries, other disabled competitors were included like amputees
1984 – NYC / Stoke Mandeville – jointly held with 1800 athletes in NY and 1100 in SM (from 45 and 4 countries respectively)
1988 – Seoul – 3057 athletes from 61 countries, for the 1st time athletes competed in the same venues as Olympic athletes
1992 – Barcelona – 3020 athletes from 82 countries, plus 1.3 million spectators with a wide television audience as well
2000 – SYDNEY – 3824 athletes from123 countries. Competitors set 300 world & Paralympic records were set.
2004 – Athens – 3469 athletes from136 countries. New logo revealed.
2008 – Beijing – 3951 athletes from146 countries making it the 2nd biggest sporting event in the world with a TV audience of approx 1.5 billion people
2012 – LONDON – an estimated 4200 athletes competing from 164 countries with 503 events in 20 sports are going to make these Paralympic games the biggest and probably the best yet.
The Paralympics are not with their controversies however, in Sydney, the entire mental disability Spanish basketball team were stripped of their gold medal after it was discovered that only 2 of the 12 members actually had learning difficulties!, plus there has been numerous cheating and drug scandals in recent years, as there has in every sporting event.
On the other hand, you have Trischa Zorn who is vision impaired – she has won a total of 55 medals since 1980 – 41 of which are Gold – howzat!!
The Paralympic Games are so important on so many different levels, from bringing attention to people with a disability and showing how they are not that different and can achieve so much, to breaking down predudice surrounding these people and generally being a very uplifting event where everyone can be inspired by these athletes.
This can also be applied to people who are trying to reach certain goals, such as weight loss. This road is often loaded with many hurdles, from mental issues trying to reduce the amount of food you eat to physically changing your lifestyle and trying to introduce more activity and exercise into it. When you see what these athletes have had to go through to get to this stage in their lives, it makes you realise tat indeed anything is possible, with determination, perseverance and just a little faith.
Lets hope these games are a great success, and something that will inspire us to never give up in anything that we want to achieve.