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History of the Paralympics.

BECAUSE World War II left so many Soldiers with serious injuries, in 1948 Sir Ludwig Guttmann organized a sports competition in Stoke Mandeville, England, to get British war veterans with spinal cord injuries moving again. Four years later, competitors from the Netherlands joined the games and an international movement was born.

Olympic-style games for athletes with disabilities, now called Paralympics, were organized for the first time in Rome in 1960. The first Paralympic Winter Games took place in Sweden in 1976.

Today, the Paralympics are elite sports events for athletes from six disability groups. They emphasize, however, the participants' athletic achievements rather than their disabilities.

The sports event has grown dramatically since its early days. In 1960 some 400 athletes from 23 countries participated in the Summer Paralympic Games, in 2004 some 3,806 athletes from 136 countries competed.

Athletes at the Summer Paralympic Games compete in archery, bocce ball, bowling, cycling, equestrian events, football, goal ball, judo, power lifting, rowing, sailing, shooting, swimming, table tennis and volleyball. There are also several wheelchair sports, including basketball, dance sport, fencing, rugby and tennis. Winter Games' participants compete in alpine skiing, ice sledge hockey, Nordic skiing and wheelchair curling.

John Register, associate director of outreach and development for the U.S. Olympic Committee's Paralympic division, played a key role in brokering the agreement between the USOC and the Department of Veterans Affairs, to give injured veterans more exposure to the Paralympic program.

"World War II veterans began this effort, and Iraq veterans will continue to foster its growth," Register said. "The U.S. Paralympics is committed to ensuring all of our disabled veterans know about these games and how to stay active through sports."

The Paralympic Games have always been held in the same year as the Olympic Games. Since the Seoul 1988 Paralympic Games and the Albertville 1992 Winter Paralympic Games, they have also taken place at the same venues as the Olympics. Since the Salt Lake 2002 Games, one organizing committee is responsible for hosting both the Olympic and the Paralympic Games. Athletes participating in the two respective Olympics live in the same Olympic Village and enjoy the same catering services, medical care and facilities. Ticketing, technology and transport systems for the Olympic Games are seamlessly extended to the Paralympians.

Beijing, China, will host the 2008 Paralympic Games, and the 2010 Winter Paralympics will be held in Vancouver, Canada.

Elaine Buehler works for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
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Author:Buehler, Elaine
Publication:Soldiers Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2008
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