The Paralympics: Birth And History

The Paralympics have gone from a recreational sport to a real elite sport that requires great dedication and sacrifice from athletes. Let’s see how they were born and evolved over the years.


Sport is a panacea for the spirit and the body, which is why in modern society it is practiced at all levels. Although team sports are on the podium of the most followed ones, one of the most anticipated events is the Olympics. For many enthusiasts, they are the only real sporting competition where great athletes from all over the world can be seen competing. The Olympics also give visibility to countries that perhaps do not excel in other sports, for example we find several African nationals and Jamaica which, in athletics, have very few rivals.


What are the Paralympics
And speaking of visibility, the last editions of the Olympics have been given a lot of importance to a parallel event, but no less important: the Paralympics (not Paralympics ). This great sporting event allows athletes with disabilities to compete in their individual or team disciplines, to win medals and give the best for their country.

Perhaps you remember the splendid video clip ‘We’re the Superhumans’ dedicated to those of Rio 2016, which shows not only athletes, but also people with disabilities facing everyday life. And in fact, after having seen even a single competition of any Paralympic sport, one realizes that Paralympic athletes are truly supermen, both in terms of mental and physical commitment.

However, the Paralympics are not just a sporting event, as they want to send a message of great positivity and strength, showing the world that even with a disability it is possible to live. In this article we will try to go through the history of the Paralympics and see how they have evolved over time. Let’s start our stopwatch and dive into the history of this splendid event.

The birth of the Paralympics
The Paralympic Games did not exist before the twentieth century, as sport for the disabled was not covered at the time. It was a German neurosurgeon named Ludwig Guttmann who had this enlightenment, as well as bringing innovative techniques for the treatment and rehabilitation of patients with disabilities. In 1939 Guttmann had to flee from Germany due to the persecutions of the Nazi regime, ending up in England where thanks to his sources and knowledge he managed to create the first medical center dedicated to spinal injuries.

However, Guttmann’s medical philosophy was not limited to treating patients, but also to instill in them confidence and regain mental strength. On the other hand, disability, especially that which affects the spinal column, can lead to states of depression as you lose the use of your legs and are forced into a wheelchair. For this Guttmann thought that it was also necessary to act on the patient’s spirit and psyche. And what better way than physical activity? Thanks to sport, patients realized that they could have fun, make friends with other people and reconnect to the world.

In the summer of 1948, Guttmann inaugurated the first real sports competition for the disabled, an event that was held in parallel with the London Olympics. Thus was born the first Paralympics which took place in the courtyard of the hospital of Guttman and included an archery competition of sixteen participants of both sexes. The event was a success, to the point that in 1952 the Paralympics were not relegated to England, but became an international competition thanks to the participation of some Dutch war veterans.

The evolution of the Paralympics
The Paralympic sports were later expanded through collaboration between Guttman and an Italian doctor, Antonio Maglio. Like his German colleague, Maglio also dealt with the rehabilitation of the disabled in Ostia, which is why he decided to expand the Paralympic Olympics event , taking it outside the English borders and organizing it in Rome. In 1960 the Olympics and Paralympics both took place in Italy, in the capital. From the sixteen athletes of the first Paralympics, there were 400 individuals from 23 different countries who were hosted in the same structures dedicated to able-bodied athletes.

From here the Paralympic sport assumed great importance, although only in 1988 was it recognized as a real discipline and not as a simple pastime created for the rehabilitation of patients. In Seoul, disabled athletes showed the world that their disciplines required a great deal of mental and physical effort, even greater than that of able-bodied athletes. The technique, training and concentration of the Paralympic athletes captured the whole world, with a disruptive force that is still remembered today by those who attended the sporting events in Seoul.

During the Olympic Games in Korea, the flag of the International Paralympic Committee was also created and the first records were set in the various Paralympic disciplines such as athletics, wheelchair basketball and swimming.

We then come to the modern Paralympics which, thanks also to the support of television and social media, have had a great response. Paralympic athletes have become testimonials of positivity and energy that not only give confidence to people with disabilities, but also to able-bodied people who may find themselves in difficult situations and think they cannot manage to overcome them. The Paralympics are therefore not only a top-level sporting event, but also an example for society.

Among the most famous Paralympic athletes we name our pilot Alex Zanardi who with great passion and determination continued his activity, becoming one of the symbols of the Paralympics. Far younger, but at the same energetic, is Beatrice Vio, a fencer who has won several medals both in tournaments and in Paralympic events.

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