The Paralympics come home

With the London 2012 Paralympics well underway, we decided to find out about the history and the people behind the first Paralympic Games. As we discover, it wouldn’t be stretching the truth to say that the Paralympics have come home.

Paralympics: the origins

While early local or national versions of the modern Olympics began in England and France as far back as the 17th and 18th centuries, the Paralympics Games are just over 50 years old.

Did you know that an early version of the Paralympics began in Britain? A precursor to the Games was held to coincide with the 1948 London Olympics at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire, which is world-renowned for its work with people who’d suffered spinal injuries.

Organised by Sir Ludwig “Poppa” Guttmann, a German-born doctor who had escaped Nazi Germany, and worked to rehabilitate British soldiers injured in the war, the Stoke Mandeville Games were held again in 1952 when Dutch war veterans also took part, making it the first international competition of its kind.

Eddie Marson and Rob Brydon in 2012 drama The Best Of Men, courtesy BBC

Just eight years later, what has since become known as the first official Paralympic Games was held in Rome in 1960, featuring 400 athletes from 23 countries.

Since 1960 the Paralympics have been held in the same year as the Olympic Games.

An archery class at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, 1949 Credit: WheelPower

Until 1976 the Games were open only to athletes in wheelchairs – but in 1976 many more classifications were added, allowing 1,600 athletes from 40 countries to compete.

Also in 1976 the first Winter Paralympics took place. Until 1992, they were held in the same year as the Summer Paralympics, when they switched to the same years as the Winter Olympics.

Another milestone in Paralympics history was the 1988 Summer Paralympics in Seoul, South Korea. The Games were the first to be held directly after the Olympics, in the same host city and using the same facilities – as now all Paralympics are. It was also the first time that the term ‘Paralympics’ came into official use.

Did you know? The Paralympic mascot Mandeville is named after Stoke Mandeville Hospital, where an early version of the Paralympics began.

Wenlock and Mandleville (CC license, Dept for Culture, Media and Sport)

You learn more about the origins of the Paralympics at the Mandeville Legacy website, here.

You can watch an interview with actor Eddie Marson, who played Dr Guttmann in The Best Of Men, a recently-screened BBC drama based on the early Paralympics, here.

The Northern Ireland Junior Basketball League

We’ve backed the creation of the Northern Ireland Junior Basketball League at Live UnLtd. You can find out about that here, and you can see James MacSorley (the creator of the league) at the Paralympics opening ceremony here.

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