10 interesting facts about the Paralympics

After a wonderful, inspirational Paralympic Games, we thought we’d put together a list of 10 interesting facts about this fascinating sporting event.

  1. Wheelchairs at the starting lineThe Paralympic Games is the world’s second largest major international multi-sport event – after the Olympic Games, of course.
  2. London 2012 goes down as being the most accessible Games ever. Train platforms were widened, buses were made wheelchair-accessible, and river piers have been given ramps. More than 8000 London buses were fitted with the new iBus system, as well as an automatic radio and display announcement system for the visually- and hearing-impaired.
  3. Trischa Zorn of the USA is the most decorated Paralympian in the history of the Games. Her Paralympic career spanned 24 years from 1980 to 2004. She competed in the blind swimming events in 7 Paralympic Games, winning a total of 55 medals – 41 of which were gold.
  4. The sighted guides for athletes with visual impairment are such an integral part of the competition that the visually-impaired athlete and guide are considered a team, with both athletes being medal candidates.
  5. Of the 20 sports at the Paralympic Games, only 4 are NOT competed in at the regular Olympic Games. These are Goal Ball – a team sport played by visually-impaired athletes who throw or roll a ball with a bell inside it across the end line; Boccia – a sport played in teams of pairs by athletes with cerebral palsy, which is similar to lawn bowls; Wheelchair Rugby – played by primarily low-level quadriplegics; and Powerlifting – similar to weightlifting, but using the upper body only.
  6. The first ever Paralympic Games was held in London in 1948 at the same time as the Summer Olympics, when German neurologist, Sir Ludwig Guttmann, organised a sports event for soldiers injured in the war. A small group of British World War II veterans took part. Then, in 1952, Dutch athletes participated too, and so the first international games for athletes with disabilities took place.
  7. The Paralympic Games were initially open only to athletes in wheelchairs. All that changed in 1976 when athletes with different disabilities were included for the first time.
  8. Today there are six disability groups in the Paralympic Games: Amputee, Cerebral Palsy, Spinal Cord Injuries, Intellectual Disability, Visual Impairment and ‘Les Autres’, which means “the others” and includes all those who don’t fit into the other groups – for instance dwarfism, multiple sclerosis, and congenital disorders.
  9. The first athlete with a disability to compete in the able-bodied Games was German American gymnast George Eyser. He competed in 1904 with one artificial leg and earned six medals in one day: three gold medals, two silvers and one bronze.
  10. In 2008, South African distance swimmer Natalie Du Toit was the second person to compete in both Games. She also carried her country’s flag at both the Paralympics’ and Summer Olympics’ opening ceremonies, making her the first athlete to ever do so.