The Paralympic Games are an independent, but officially endorsed Spin-Off of the Olympic Games for extraordinary athletes who just so happen to have disabilities; and here, that's something to be embraced. They are traditionally held a few weeks following the conclusion of the Summer or Winter Olympic Games (which gives organizers ample time to make any necessary adjustments to the venues for Paralympic sports, and of course, replace all the Olympic livery with often similar Paralympic livery), and have historically been the smaller underdog to the Olympics.
However, what the Paralympics lose in size, they gain back with inspiring stories, an overall feel-good atmosphere, and the locals getting what is essentially the official after-party for the Games that only just ended (especially for those who couldn't afford to, or even manage to get tickets for the Olympics; in 2016, the lowest ticket price was just US$3.) Although the Olympics have always been a tough act to follow, the Paralympics have grown significantly since they were first held (per canon) in 1960; the 2012 Summer Paralympics in London were the first Paralympics to bring greater media attention (except from NBC, as usual), and an unprecedented demand for tickets. Oh, and Stephen Hawking and Coldplay even headlined the opening and closing ceremonies too, respectively.
Owing to their influence, the structure and protocol of the Paralympics are modeled after that of the Olympics — there's still a torch relay, there's still medals, and they also share many of the same events. There are also Paralympics-specific events, such as wheelchair rugby (a.k.a. Murderball), Goalball (a handball-styled game for the blind—there are bells in the ball to help the players find it), Para ice hockey (also known as sledge hockey; a variation of ice hockey in which players are seated on sleds), powerlifting, 5-a-side and 7-a-side Football (Downsized association football for the blind, and those with neurological disorders such as cerebral palsy respectively), wheelchair racing (of course! It's part of the track and field events), and the Bocce-esque game Boccia. There is also significant continuity behind the scenes as well; since at least 1988, the Paralympics typically share their organizing committee, infrastructure and venues with their corresponding Olympics.
While originally open to wheelchair athletes only (with a particular emphasis on veterans of World War II), they have since expanded to include events for all many different disabilities—but most prominently the blind, those suffering from cerebral palsy, and the intellectually disabled. To provide a level playing field, athletes are given classes based off their type and level of disability, and compete in competitions specific to each class: for instance in athletics, classes T42 to T47 deal with those who have amputated limbs (T42 to T44 for leg amputations and T45 to T47 for arm amputations), while T11-13 deal with differing levels of blindness.
The first Paralympics were organized by the International Stoke Mandeville Games Federation, but in following years by the International Sports Organization for the Disabled (an organization founded by the International War Veterans Association). ISOD was replaced in 1984 by the International Co-ordination Committee of World Sports Organizations for the Disabled (or, the much, much shorter ICC), a union of several organizations related to disability sports. The ICC was re-organized to form the International Paralympic Committee in 1989. While the IOC and IPC do share a degree of cooperation (all of the IPC's delegates are also honorary IOC members), they are still distinct organizations. The IPC also serves as the main governing body for 10 Paralympic sports (including athletics, Para ice hockey, aquatics, and also Wheelchair DanceSport, which surprisingly isn't a Paralympic event), and organizes world championships for these sports in non-Olympic years.
HistoryThe Paralympics have their origins in the Stoke Mandeville Games; it was an archery competition organized by Dr. Ludwig Guttmann and held in, well, Stoke Mandeville Hospital (a facility in England that deals with spinal cord injuries). The athletes were World War II veterans who used wheelchairs, and they were held on the first day of the 1948 Olympics in London. However, Guttman had more ambitious plans: he wanted to create a parallel to the Olympics for the disabled. His progress was being noticed: in 1952 the Netherlands became the first international team to compete (becoming the International Stoke Mandeville Games), and the IOC honoured Guttmann with an award for his "meritorious achievement in service to the Olympic movement" in 1956.
Guttmann's dream became reality in 1960 when the International Stoke Mandeville Games were held in Rome following their 1960 Summer Olympics; the first to be held in parallel with the Olympics. 400 athletes from 23 countries competed in 8 sports at the 1960 Games (which were still wheelchair-only, however); while still small by Olympic standards (so small that every athlete was guaranteed a medal), it was still a major achievement. Following Rome, the I.S.M.G. would be held every four years, and organizers also tried to hold them in the same cities as the Olympics as well. Emphasis on the word "tried"; while Tokyo embraced the concept, Mexico City, eh, not so much. It wasn't until Seoul 1988 that the Games finally shared hosts with the Olympics again. In 1976, the (ahem) "Winter Olympic Games for the Disabled" were first held as well, and the Games also began adding other disability categories beyond just wheelchairs, such as the visually impaired and amputees.
In 1984, the International Olympic Committee made the term "Paralympics" (referring to an event held in parallel with the Olympics) a canon name for the events, and retconned every International Stoke Mandeville Games since 1960 (both summer and winter) as being Paralympic Games. The IOC also began to be a major partner in the organization of the newly-named Paralympics; the 1988 Summer Paralympics in Seoul were organized in cooperation between the IOC and ICC, Games which now hosted a total of 732 athletes in 16 sports. Since this cooperation began, the Paralympics have been held in the same cities as the Olympics (and beginning in 2000, incorporation of the Paralympics became an official requirement for future Olympic bids).
The Games so far (and future Games)
- I — 1960: Rome, Italy: The first canon Paralympics, but technically the 9th Annual International Stoke Mandeville Games. Archer Margaret Maughan was notably the first British athlete to win what is now Paralympic gold. 400 athletes from 23 countries participated; allegedly most events had guaranteed medals because there were just so few competitors!
- II — 1964: Tokyo, Japan: The final Paralympics to share a host city with the Olympics until 1988. Also notably used the term "Paralympic" for the first time.
- III — 1968: Tel Aviv, Israel: Mexico City passed, leaving Israel to offer themselves to host.
- IV — 1972: Heidelberg, West Germany: Demonstration sports for the blind were held
- V — 1976: Toronto, Ontario, Canada: The first to add events for amputees and the blind.
- VI — 1980: Arnhem, Netherlands
- VII — 1984: Stoke Mandeville, England and Long Island, New York, USA: The University of Illinois was to host it, but pulled out for financial reasons just three months prior. Stoke Mandeville and Long Island jointly hosted the games; owing to its heritage and experience, Stoke Mandeville hosted the wheelchair events for athletes with spinal cord injuries.
- VIII — 1988: Seoul, South Korea: At this point, the IOC began cooperating with the ICC (and later IPC). The Paralympics now hosted 3,057 athletes from 61 nations.
- IX — 1992: Barcelona, Spain: The first to feature Wheelchair Tennis as an official event, and the first to feature events for those with intellectual disabilities, but only in the "Paralympic Games for Persons with mental handicap" held following the games. (Yes. The spin-off has a spin-off.)
- X — 1996: Atlanta, Georgia, USA: Officially introduced the ID class events, which brought events for those with a mental disability into the Games proper. Its mascot, a Phoenix named Blaze (which was, on the other hand, much better looking than Izzy and also was a more befitting symbol of the host city, given that Atlanta's official city seal depicts a phoenix rising from the ashes) became a symbol for disability sports in the U.S. following the games, even more so given that Atlanta's Paralympic legacy organization even renamed itself BlazeSports America.
- XI — 2000: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia: Infamous for a cheating scandal surrounding Spainnote , and local folk group The Seekers finally getting to perform their signature song "The Carnival Is Over" (a local Memetic Mutation for ending "special" events held in Australia) during the closing ceremony. The band missed the Olympics' closing ceremony after lead singer Judith Durham broke her hip (she wound up performing in a wheelchair).
- XII — 2004: Athens, Greece: The Paralympics visit the birthplace of the Olympics, with 3,806 athletes from 136 nations in 19 sports. The ID events were suspended following the events of Sydney, while the cultural portion of the closing ceremony was cancelled out of respect to 7 students who were killed in a bus crash on their way to the Games.
- XIII — 2008: Beijing, People's Republic of China: 3,591 athletes competed, and of course, China dominated.
- XIV — 2012: London, England: The Paralympics return to their spiritual birthplace in style. The torch relay featured tributes to the Games past; the relay proper began at Stoke Mandeville Stadium, and the flame was lit by Britain's first ever Paralympic gold medalist, Margaret Maughan. Widely regarded as the grandest Paralympics ever, with 4,294 athletes, historic ticket sales, and ceremonies which starred Stephen Hawking and Coldplay respectively. Oh, and ID events came back too, but just not in basketball.
- XV — 2016: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Organizers reportedly took notes from London, while Canoeing and Triathlon made their debut. Russia was kicked out entirely over a major doping scandal, and the run-up to these Games were hit with budgetary issues which organizers credited to an initial lack of interest from sponsors and spectators. However, much like the athletes themselves, they managed to overcome the setbacks and surpass Beijing as the second-largest Paralympics by ticket sales.
- XVI — 2020: Tokyo, Japan: Tokyo became the first city to host the Summer Paralympics twice. 7-a-side football and sailing were dropped due to insufficient reach, with the new events of badminton and taekwondo taking their place. Along with their parent Olympics, these games were postponed to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic though they retained the "Tokyo 2020" branding.
- XVII — 2024: Paris, France
- XVIII — 2028: Los Angeles, California, USA
- XIX — 2032: Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
- I — 1976: Örnsköldsvik, Sweden: The first Winter Paralympics ever (but known as the "Winter Olympic Games for the Disabled"), with only two events (Alpine skiing and Cross-country skiing), and 198 athletes (blind and amputees) from 16 countries.
- II — 1980: Geilo, Norway: 18 countries, 299 athletes. Now with Ice sledge speed racing, and sledge downhill as a demonstration sport.
- III — 1984: Innsbruck, Austria: 21 countries, 419 athletes
- IV — 1988: Innsbruck, Austria (yes, again): 22 countries, 377 athletes. Also Biathlon.
- V — 1992: Tignes-Albertville, France: 365 athletes from 24 countries. Ice sledge speed racing is gone. Last Winter Paralympics held outside of the Olympic host city.
- VI — 1994: Lillehammer, Norway: 471 athletes from 31 countries. Sledge Hockey debuted, and Ice sledge speed racing returned (but this time indoors)
- VII — 1998: Nagano, Japan: 571 athletes from 32 countries, the largest Paralympic turnout ever, and the first outside of Europe.
- VIII — 2002: Salt Lake City, Utah, USA: 416 athletes from 36 countries. First Winter Paralympics in North America.
- IX — 2006: Turin, Italy: 486 athletes from 39 countries. Wheelchair curling debuts.
- X — 2010: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada: 506 athletes from 44 countries. Viviane Forest became the first to win a gold medal at both the Summer and Winter Paralympics (she was on Canada's goalball team in 2000 and 2004), Brian McKeever almost became the first athlete to compete at both the Winter Olympics and Paralympics in the same year (he was named to both teams, but got pulled out of the Olympic Men's 50 km cross-country race by their coach), and Canada faced upset losses to Japan and Norway in the sledge hockey semi-finals and bronze medal game respectively (the U.S. would blank Japan in the finals).
- XI — 2014: Sochi, Russia: Snowboarding debuted (though as part of the Alpine skiing programme with snowboard cross only), Russia pretty much dominated the majority of the competitions (likely with the help of performance-enhancing substances, however). Also, NBC finally aired decent coverage for once, and hell froze over when they aired the Opening Ceremony live (on NBCSN, but still. They would never do that for the Olympics). The Ukrainian team was in the spotlight for much of the Games, primarily because of the military intervention in Crimea.
- XII — 2018: Pyeongchang, South Korea. Snowboarding was promoted to a separate sport, with the addition of banked slalom competitions. Sledge hockey was officially renamed Para ice hockey just before these Games.
- XIII — 2022: Beijing, People's Republic of China
- XIV — 2026: Milan & Cortina, Italy