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The 2012 Paralympics - another achievement for the UK

July 2012  


Paralympics 2012As the Olympic Games approach, we will also be hearing a lot more about the Paralympic Games, due to start in the Olympic Stadium in London on the 29th of August this year. Her Majesty the Queen, accompanied by His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh, will officially open the games and while the hype and media coverage won’t be quite as intense as for the Summer Olympics, nevertheless the event will attract a lot of interest. After all, this year 150 nations are sending competitors to take part in the 471 different events covering 21 different sports.

How good it is that the concept was started right here in the UK, thanks to the vision of a pioneering neurologist Sir Ludwig Guttman.

Ludwig Guttman was born into an orthodox Jewish family in Silesia, Germany, which is now part of Poland. He studied medicine and worked in various hospitals in Germany until 1939 when life for his family became impossible. He made his way to the UK and his experience led him to research work at the Nuffield Department of Neurosurgery in Oxford.

Towards the end of the war, the British government asked Guttmann to found a specialist centre for spinal injuries at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire and there he began introducing sport as a method of therapy, helping patients to gain physic strength and also self-respect. This was so successful that by 1952 the Stoke Mandeville Games for disabled people were attracting competitors from many nations across the world.

But Ludwig Guttman wanted more than that, his vision expanded to working on an international games for the disabled that would be the equivalent of the Olympic Games. The breakthrough came in 1960 when the International Stoke Mandeville Games were held in Rome alongside the official Summer Olympics. This competition attracted 400 athletes from 23 countries and these games are today recognised as the start of the real Paralympics, although this term wasn’t officially used until 1984.

Interestingly, the name Paralympics was not created to connect with the medical words paralysis or paraplegia. Instead, it is derived using the Greek word “para” which means beside, or alongside - from these Stoke Mandeville Games which were held alongside the official Olympics in Rome.

Today, the Paralympics are a well developed and recognised competition, overseen by an International Paralympic committee. This IPC is responsible for organising both summer and winter Paralympic Games.

In many ways their job is much harder than the organising committee for the Olympic Games because it is not easy to totally categorise the wide range of disabilities that exist today, and there has been comment that some competitions favour competitors with less disability than others. To offer the best level platform possible, the IPC have defined categories carefully and today most people think it is a fair system.

Generally, for both summer and winter Paralympics, disabilities are categorised as follows:

  • Athletes with an amputation – ‘amputees’
  • Athletes with cerebral palsy
  • Athletes with visual impairment or blindness
  • Athletes with spinal injuries or other physical disabilities.

The events in the 2012 Paralympics cover the full spectrum of athletic challenges, from cycling and athletics to equestrian and judo. There are water sports such as rowing, sailing and swimming, ball sports such as football, table tennis, sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball, rugby and tennis; and accuracy events such as archery and shooting. There are also two sports specifically developed for paralympians: boccia and goal ball.

In many cases there are different categories within the sport, for instance the athletic events for runners covers a spectrum of events such as 100, 200, 400, 600, 1,500 and 5,000 metre events plus relays and a marathon.

Obviously in some events some adaptations have had to be incorporated. For instance, blind athletes are permitted acoustic signals in the 100m, long jump and triple jump, meaning they are allowed guidance from a voice or hand clap. Blind runners in some events are allowed to be accompanied by a guide runner to help them stay in their lane.

On top of that there are various additional classes and categories to ensure the most equal and fair competition possible.

There is lots of information on the web about the Paralympics and the paralympians including this full guide to the 2012 Paralympic Games..

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