The original Olympic Games were held in Olympia, Greece in ancient times as a tribute to Zeus. Every four years, athletes would come together to show their prowess. However, the Games came to a halt roughly 1600 years ago when Emperor Theodosius I put a stop to pagan ceremonies. Leap ahead to 1896 and the Olympic Games were reborn in Athens, Greece. No disabled athletes participated at that point, but that all changed in 1904. George Eyser, a man born in Germany and raised in America, competed in St. Louis at the Summer Games. He staked his claim to glory when he took six medals in gymnastics, unhindered by an artificial leg. Eyser opened the door for individuals with disabilities in athletic competition.
The Paralympics: Yesterday and Today
The first Paralympics were held in 1948 in London. British athletes participated in archery in this event that was dubbed “the Wheelchair Games.” The Paralympics were organized by a German neurologist. Sir Ludwig Guttman had seen the ravages of war firsthand as he dealt with soldiers suffering from spinal cord injuries. Later, the Dutch became involved in the first international games for disabled individuals. The concept continued to evolve. The first, official Paralympics took place in 1960, truly involving a host of athletes as 400 participants joined together from 23 nations. All athletes were wheelchair-bound. Eight years later, athletes with other types of disabilities were welcomed to the Paralympics. In 1976, disabled athletes rose to the occasion in the first Paralympics Winter Games in Sweden.
Various athletes have made groundbreaking achievements in the Paralympics. In 1988, a Hungarian athlete became the first to win medals in both the Summer Olympic Games and the Paralympics. After being paralyzed in a bus accident, he fought his way through recovery and continued to fence, proving his resilience in the face of adversity. In 2004, a girl named Jessica Long won three gold medals in swimming even though both legs were amputated. Famous double amputee, Oscar Pistorius, took the gold in sprinting in 2008. As of 2012, over 4000 athletes from 164 competed in the London Paralympics, proving their ability to overcome great challenges.
Source: Masters in Special Education