You say the word Olympic Games and you see this range of
physically fit men and women parade before your mind's eye. This is the best of
the best, the most elite bunch of amateur athletes that exist. They give the
performances of a lifetime and make you thrill with delight at each sporting
event. You wish you were as talented as them and wonder what pushes them to
break record after record. You even suck in that little pot belly of yours when
you find yourself looking at men and women in peak physical condition. There is
no place for a wheelchair here, or
Enter the Paralympic Games. In 1948, Sir Ludwig Guttmann brought together World War II veterans in a sports competition. These games were not organized for those in great health; in fact they were organized for those with a spinal cord injury. These games were held in Stoke Mandeville, England. The veterans had a great time testing their mettle in the games. When they were replayed four years later the competitors were joined by their counterparts from Netherlands. And thus began the movement which would eventually lead to the Paralympic Games.
In 1960 a proper Olympic Style games were organized for these special athletes with disabilities. 400 participants from 23 countries took part in these games. The number of participants in the Paralympics has steadily increased from then and in 2008 in Beijing there were 3951 athletes from 146 countries taking part in the Paralympic Games. The lives of these athletes are inspiring to say the least with a physical disability such as spinal injury, cerebral palsy, amputation, les autres conditions and blindness/visual impairment to cope with. Each story of success has a million different struggles behind it, but you would never know that when you see those smiles at the medal ceremony.
The Paralympics are usually held in the same year as the Olympic Games. After the agreement was signed between the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympics Committee all future hosts of the Olympic Games will also be obliged to host the Paralympic Games. The games are also held at the same venues used by the Olympic Games. That is how Vancouver is also hosting the winter edition of the Paralympics in 2010. These are slated to be held from 12 to 21 March 2010 in Vancouver. Similarly the Summer Paralympics will be hosted next by London in 2012. And the next Winter Olympic Games at Sochi in 2014 will also be the venue for the next Winter Paralympics.
The term Paralympics was coined from the word Paraplegic due to the people participating having spinal cord injuries. This is not really politically correct or acceptable any more. Thus the present formal explanation is that it is derived from the Greek root word "para" which means alongside or besides. Thus referring to the games held along with the Olympic Games as the Paralympics. Essentially it remains a place for people with physical disabilities to compete with others like them in a sporting competition.
There are 9 sports played in the Paralympics which are approved by the IPC. These are Alpine Skiing, Athletics, Biathlon, Cross-Country Skiing, Ice Sledge Hockey, Powerlifting, Shooting, Swimming and Wheelchair Dance. Here is a list of events under each sporting activity.
There are five events in this category and these include Downhill, Super-G, Super Combined, Giant Slalom and Slalom.
There are Track events such as the Sprint (100m, 200m, 400m), Middle Distance (800m, 1500m), Long Distance (5,000m, 10,000m) and Relay races (4x100m, 4x400m). Then there is a road event which is the Marathon. The Jumping events include the High Jump, Long Jump and Triple Jump. The Throwing events have the Discus, Shot Put, Javelin. There is also a combined event called the Pentathlon.
It is a modified version of the Nordic Skiing as used in the Paralympics. Athletes with visual impairments are assisted by acoustic signals, which depending on signal intensity, indicate when the athlete is on target or not.
Male and female athletes compete in short distance, middle distance and long distance (ranging from 2.5km to 20km) or participate in a team relay using classical or free techniques. The visually impaired are also allowed to participate in this event. Those with functional disabilities also use sit-skis to participate.
Ice Sledge Hockey
The Paralympics version of Ice Hockey is open to men with disabilities in the lower half of the body. The equipment includes two blade sledges instead of skates. The request to enroll female participants in the teams has been approved in 2009.
Open to all participants with cerebral palsy, spinal injuries and amputees, it is the ultimate test of the strength of the upper body. The IPC's version of weightlifting it has been renamed powerlifting in the Paralympics.
The test of accuracy and control is checked with a Rifle and a Pistol. By firing a series of shots on a stationary target. There are two categories for participation which are the wheelchair and standing. Open to both men and women the target distances are set at 10m, 25m and 50m.
Swimming is the major draw at the Paralympics with Freestyle, Backstroke, Butterfly, Breaststroke and Medley events taking place for both men and women. This is the sport which sees the maximum number of contestants from the maximum number of countries.
Standard dances in the Paralympics include the waltz, tango, Viennese waltz, slow foxtrot and quickstep. Latin-American dances are also part of the competition and include the samba, cha-cha-cha, rumba, paso doble and jive. Formation dances for 4, 6 or 8 couples also exist. The Wheelchair dancers may choose to dance with an able bodies partner or with another person in a wheelchair.
What are the Paralympic Values? These are listed as Determination, Courage, Inspiration and Equality. These are keywords that we may well apply and use in our own lives. Truly the Paralympics are a salute to the human spirit, which seeks to do its best no matter what the circumstances.