The hype from the Winter Olympics may be fading away, but the anticipation for the 2018 Winter Paralympics taking place in PyeongChang, South Korea is just igniting.
This year’s Paralympics is a record-breaking one, with 567 athletes competing, making it the biggest Winter Paralympics to date.
The Paralympics offers athletes with disabilities worldwide to compete in a sporting event equivalent to the Olympics. The eligibility of athletes who can compete is broken down into six categories such as individuals with spinal injuries, or those who are amputees. The Paralympics and Olympics follow the same schedule and take place in the same locations.
However, the Paralympics do not fall under the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which also oversee the Special Olympics and Deaflympics. Amid fireworks and Korean pop songs, Seo Soonseok of South Korea lit the Paralympic cauldron thus signaling the start of the Paralympics!
History of the Paralympics
Disabled athletes have made their mark long before the creation of the Paralympics. Take George Eyser who competed in the 1904 Summer Olympics with an artificial leg.
The Paralympics started as an alternative for war veterans who had sustained injuries from World War II. The starting point for the Paralympics was an event for wheelchair athletes created by Dr. Ludwig Guttmann in 1948, the same year as the London Olympics. These initial games were called the Stoke Mandeville Games, and became truly international in 1952 with the addition of Dutch and Israeli athletes.
The first official Paralympics games started in 1960 in Rome, and have continued since. While the 1960 Paralympic Games were not exclusive to war veterans, it was only limited to athletes in wheelchairs. It was through the efforts of the International Organisation of Sports for the Disabled (IOSD) that athletes with all impairments were included. The 1976 Summer Olympics saw an addition of 1,600 new athletes ranging from 40 countries. In 2016, the Olympic and Paralympic committees signed an agreement that will extend until 2032, with goals to bring awareness to the Paralympics and ensure its longevity.
While the Paralympic and Olympic games are equal for the most part, many Paralympic athletes have raised concerns about funding and coverage of their events.
Three American Paralympic athletes have submitted a lawsuit accusing United States Olympic Committee of a gap in funding. While the athletes did not win the suit, funding allocated to Paralympic athletes did triple from the years 2004 to 2008. David Weir, a six-time Paralympic gold medallist, is an advocate for increased visibility for disabled athletes and has proposed combining the Paralympic and Olympic games.
The Paralympics is not short of groundbreaking athletes. If you enjoy playing table tennis, you may be inspired by Ibrahim Hamato of Eygpt, who lost both his arms in an accident but did not let it hinder his passion for table tennis. Hamato has adopted his own style of playing table tennis, using his mouth to hold the racket! Oksana Masters of the US, who has both her legs amputated, is set to compete in the 2018 Paralympics in four sports – two in the summer games and two in the winter.
What we can learn from these athletes is to never stop fighting – external circumstances do not dictate whether or not you achieve your dream.
Sources: CNN, BusinessInsider, BBC, Newsweek, Olymic.org, Paralympic.org, Wikipedia