What Are the Paralympic Games?
The Paralympic Games mirrors the Olympic Games with the exception that it features disabled athletes in sporting events catered to their physical limitations. Paralympic participants may have physical disabilities that impede their mobility. Many disabled athletes may have disfigured or amputated limbs, blindness, or skeletal disease. As with the major Olympic Games, the Paralympics hosts winter and summer sporting events that immediately follow the main Olympics. The International Paralympic Committee hosts and governs all of the Paralympic Games.
The Paralympics have evolved passed the small gatherings of World War II veterans into one of the largest international sporting events in the twenty-first century. The Paralympic Committee strives to maintain indiscriminate policies for both able-bodied and disabled Olympic athletes; however, a large gap exists between both competitive classes. For instance, Paralympians have a difficult time competing with non-disabled Olympians in track and field events; however, the opportunity exists for those disabled athletes to participate in the regular Olympic Games if they feel compelled to participate. The Paralympic Games features athletes with physical disabilities, whereas the Special Olympic Games allows athletes with intellectual disabilities to participate. In addition, deaf athletes can compete in the Deaflympics.
The International Paralympic Committee classifies disabled athletes into six different categories, including individuals with amputated limbs, cerebral palsy, confined to a wheelchair, visually impaired, intellectually disabled, and Les Autres, or those participants with disabilities that do not fall into the previous five categories. Les Autres participants may suffer from dwarfism, congenital deformities, and multiple sclerosis. Each sporting event has its separate categorization for each of their participants, which has led to public scrutiny and allegations of some competitors who overstated their disabilities. In addition, some Paralympic competitors have been caught abusing performance-enhancing drugs as witnessed in major sporting events.
The first disabled athlete to compete in the Olympic Games was George Eyser in 1904. Eyser was an amputee with an artificial leg who competed in shooting events during the 1948 and 1952 Summer Olympic Games. He was a right-handed amputee who had an accurate left-handed aim. Liz Hartel, a Danish equestrian who suffered from polio, competed in the 1943 Olympic Games and won a silver medal. However, the first organized athletic event for disabled individuals occurred on the opening day of the 1948 Olympic Summer Games in London, England. The organizers named the first disabled athletic games the 1948 International Wheelchair Games, and were hosted again at the same location in 1952. These early competitions became the precursors to the modern Paralympic Games.
Follow these links to learn more about the Paralympic Games for the physically disabled, Deaflympics for the hearing impaired, and the Special Olympic Games for those with cognitive disabilities:
- The Summer and Winter Deaflympics
- The International Paralympic Committee
- Paralympics Traces Roots to Second World War
- History of the Paralympic Games
- USA Paralympic Swimmers
- The Paralympics: Yet Another Missed Opportunity for Social Integration (PDF)
- Paralympic Sports, the Next Frontier for Sports Science (PDF)
- ThinkQuest: Paralympic History
- History of Paralympics