Hot on the heels of the recent Olympic Games, the Paralympic Games are being staged in the UK, from 29 August to 9 September, and they showcase the achievements of athletes with some form of disability. The Paralympics logo, called the Agitos, recently began appearing in cities across the UK to signal the forthcoming Games.
In many respects, the Paralympics are 'coming home' because they originated at Stoke Mandeville, near Amersham, in England, when a sports competition among disabled patients took place at the same time as the 1948 Olympics in Britain. Back in 1944, feisty German neurologist, Dr Ludwig Guttmann, opened a spinal injuries centre at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital. Guttmann "transformed the care of Second World War servicemen as he introduced sport to their rehabilitation programme. He encouraged his patients to get involved in wheelchair polo and basketball". The very first competition was Archery, for wheelchair athletes, and the Paralympic Games were born in their basic form.
After that, the Games were held every year until 1952 when the Netherlands participated, which made the Games international. The Paralympic Games as we know them now first took place in Rome 1960, over 50 years ago, and featured 400 athletes from 23 countries. In 1976 the first Paralympic Winter Games were held in Sweden, and, as with the Olympic Games, have taken place every four years. On 22 September 1989, the International Paralympic Committee was founded as a non-profit organization in Dusseldorf, Germany to act as the global governing body of the Paralympic Movement. This year there will be ten times as many athletes competing, as in that first games (4,280) from 165 countries, 19 more than in Beijing. More than 503 gold medals will be awarded over the course of 11 days of competition.
The Paralympic Flame and Sporting Events
On the 22 August, four national Paralympic Flames were lit to represent the four regions of the United Kingdom (See the Welsh Flame). Those Flames are being combined today at Stoke Mandeville, with a single Paralympic Flame being created for the Torch Relay to London's Olympic Stadium in Stratford. Teams of five disabled athletes (580 in all) will carry the torch over the 90 mile route, overnight as well, to its final destination at the Opening Ceremony on 29 August.
Apart from the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, there are 20 sports events in the Paralympics, and the action promises to be as riveting as the main Olympics. They are: Archery, Athletics, Boccia (muscle control), Cycling, Equestrian, Football, Goalball, Judo, Powerlifting, Rowing, Sailing, Shooting, Sitting Volleyball, Swimming, Table Tennis, Wheelchair Basketball, Wheelchair Fencing, Wheelchair Rugby, Wheelchair Tennis.
In fact, five sports, in particular should draw a lot of interest:
1. Men’s 100m T44 final (6 September): This could include South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius, Great Britain’s Jonnie Peacock and USA’s Jerome Singleton and Blake Leeper.
2. Wheelchair tennis women’s singles final (7 September): Dutch sensation Esther Vergeer has not lost a singles match since January 2003.
3. Men’s wheelchair basketball final (8 September): Being the biggest team sport at the Paralympics, Canada, Great Britain and USA all have the potential to knock off defending champions Australia for the title.
4. Men’s 5,000m T54 final (2 September): This could be the first of several T54 finals on the track that feature a trio of wheelchair racing rivals, including Great Britain’s David Weir, Switzerland’s Marcel Hug and Australia’s Kurt Fearnley.
5. Closing Ceremony (9 September): The anticipated biggest and most profound Paralympic Games in history will come to a close with a night full of entertainment at London’s Olympic Stadium, with headline act, musicians Coldplay.
Perhaps benefiting from the very successful Olympic Games, for the first time in the history of the Paralympics, all the tickets are sold out as people bask in the glow of Olympic fever. We now await the Opening Ceremony with a lot of keen anticipation.