What are the Paralympic Games?

Paralympic games include basketball.
The Paralympic Games include a table tennis event.
Soccer is one event during the summer Paralympic Games.
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  • Originally Written By: Phil Shepley
  • Revised By: A. Joseph
  • Edited By: Lucy Oppenheimer
  • Last Modified Date: 30 March 2014
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The Paralympic Games, also called the Paralympics, are an international athletic competition for people who have physical disabilities. Originally a combination of the words "paraplegic" and "Olympic," the word "Paralympic" now is a combination of "parallel" and "Olympic" and refers to the fact that the games are held in the same years and at the same locations as the Olympic Games. Paralympic athletes are classified according to their physical disabilities, and they compete in against athletes with similar disabilities. As of 2012, the Paralympic Games included events in more than 20 different sports, some of which allowed athletes to use wheelchairs during competition.


In 1948 in Stoke Mandeville, England, Sir Ludwig Guttmann organized a sports competition that involved veterans of World War II who had spinal cord injuries. In 1952, competitors from the Netherlands joined the games. In Rome in 1960, the games were modeled after the Olympic Games and named the Paralympic Games. That year, the competition included 400 athletes from 23 countries.


In Toronto in 1976, people from different disability groups were added for the first time to the Paralympic Summer Games. Also that year, the Paralympic Winter Games were held in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden. By 2008, when the Summer Paralympics were held in Beijing, the games had grown to involve more than 4,200 athletes from 148 countries. Like the Olympics, the Summer and Winter Paralympics are each held every four years — always in even-numbered years — and alternate so that one is always held two years after the other.

International Paralympic Committee

Since 1988, the Summer and Winter Paralympic Games have been held at the same venues as the Olympic Games, following an agreement between the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC). The IPC is responsible for organizing, supervising and coordinating the Paralympic Summer and Winter Games. The IPC’s stated mission is to enable disabled athletes to achieve excellence in sports and thereby "inspire and excite" other people around the world.


Paralympic athletes originally consisted only of those in wheelchairs. The disability classifications now include athletes who have visual impairments, those who have spinal injuries, those who have cerebral palsy and those who have had amputations or have at least one major part of an extremity or joint missing. There also is a classification called Les Autres, which is French for "the others." This classification includes physical disabilities that do not fall under the other classifications. Athletes in the Les Autres classification might compete against those in another classification in some sports, depending on their functional abilities.

Athletes who have intellectual disabilities that impair them in athletics did not compete in the Paralympics as of 2012. These athletes can compete in the Special Olympics, which are an event that is separate from the Paralympics. The Special Olympics Summer and Winter World Games also are held on an alternating basis, with each one occurring every four years, two years after the other, but they are held in odd-numbered years.


The summer events of the Paralympic Games include competitions in sports such as archery, volleyball, swimming, table tennis and athletics, which some people refer to as track and field. The summer games also include competitions in judo, cycling, soccer, shooting and other sports. Wheelchair events include basketball, tennis and rugby. Among the winter events of the Paralympic Games are alpine skiing, nordic skiing, ice sledge hockey and wheelchair curling. An ice sledge essentially is a small sled on which the athlete sits, and it slides across the ice as the athlete uses his or her hands to push off the ice.


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