The Paralympic Games are currently being held in Tokyo.
After World War II, rehabilitation sports morphed into competitive sports due, largely, to the efforts of Dr. Ludwig Guttmann, a refugee from Germany and a neurologist who organized the first competition for wheelchair athletes during the 1948 London Olympics. His story is an important one, a story that everyone should know.
By 1960, his movement had blossomed to 400 athletes from 23 countries, with Dr. Guttmann’s Stoke Mandeville Games renamed the Paralympic Games. In 1989, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) was established as the global governing body of the Paralympic Movement.
Russia refused to acknowledge the Paralympics in 1980. It took more than 20 years for the IOC to make it obligatory for any host of the Olympic Games to also run the Paralympics. That said, the 2016 Rio Paralympics was almost cancelled after Brazil faced financial challenges – clearly the Olympics were a priority for Brazilian organizers, not the Paralympics.
“There are no invalids in the U.S.S.R.” (A Soviet official’s reply during the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games, when a Western journalist asked whether the Soviet Union would participate in the first Paralympic games, scheduled to take place in Great Britain later that year)
The word Paralympic derives from the Greek preposition “para” (beside or alongside) and the word “Olympic”. When two words are put together, this is known as a “portmanteau”. Paralympics are the parallel Games to the Olympics. This word choice is meant to describe how the two movements exist side-by-side.
Personally, I feel that side-by-side in the case of the Paralympics amounts to segregation. While capabilities and events may differ, holding them on completely different dates (with the Olympics held first) only serves to promulgate the myth that disabled persons are inferior. Society has changed since the Paralympics were first officially held in 1960. It is time to right this wrong. Disabled persons should not complete last and in isolation, separate from Olympians.
“No player is para or able-bodied in my head.” (Melissa Tapper, first Australian to qualify for the Summer Olympics and the Summer Paralympics)
Have you ever watched the Paralympics, or, like many, have you only ever watched the Olympics? If you answered affirmatively to the last question, think about why and what you can do to change this situation.
Perhaps one of the first steps is to get comfortable with disability. An independent documentary released last year, called “Rising Phoenix”, exposes viewers to Paralympic athletes and insiders as they reflect on the Paralympic Games and examine how they impact the world’s understanding of disability, diversity and excellence. We highly recommend you watch it (now streaming on Netflix).
The Paralympic Games end on Saturday, there is still time to take in some events. In the meantime, here’s some facts to whet your appetite:
- In all, there are 4,537 athletes from 163 countries competing in 22 different Paralympic sports in Tokyo
- The U.S. is represented by 242 athletes, with Japan representing the most Paralympians (260), followed by Brazil (258), China (255), Russia (246) – Team USA only needs 19 more athletes to have the largest contingent in Paris in 2024
- Athletes from Bhutan, Guyana, Maldives, Paraguay and St. Vincent & the Grenadines have made Paralympic debuts in Tokyo. Welcome newbies!!!
- Badminton and taekwondo were added to the Paralympic roster in Tokyo, though Team USA won’t be represented in badminton. Paralympians Evan Medell (24 years old, Grand Haven, MI) and Brianna Salinaro (23 years old, Massapequa, NY) will make history as the first Americans to compete in taekwondo
- 12 U.S. athletes will compete in more than 1 sport at the Tokyo Paralympics. Multifaceted 32 year old Oksana Masters from Louisville, KY, made her Paralympic rowing debut in 2012 and has gone on to participate in Nordic skiing, Nordic biathlon and cycling
- The first Tokyo Paralympics Gold medal earned by an American was awarded to Anastasia Pagonis, a 17 year old blind teenager from Long Island:
“When I jump in the water, that’s my happy place.” (Anastasia Pagonis)
“I’m not going to be what people think blindness is where they can’t do anything, they can’t dress nice, they can’t wear makeup. I’m not going to be that person. So I was like, hmmmmm, let me make me as badass as possible.” (Anastasia Pagonis)
- Now retired from competitive swimming, Trischa Zorn-Hudson, from Orange, CA, is also a blind swimmer. She is the most decorated Paralympic athlete ever, with 55 medals (41 gold, 9 silver, 5 bronze) to her name
Five years ago, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Team USA came home with 115 medals, the fourth most of any country. Can’t wait to see what the count looks like in just a few days.
Dr. Guttman laid the foundation for the Paralympics Games, now who is going to work with the same amount of relentless passion on integration? It will take many minds. Please step up. There is much important work to be done.
“When we look back, we can see long historical forces leading us toward more inclusive societies; the Olympic Games are a window into this world. The inclusion of women, ethnic minorities and LGBTQ athletes teaches us something we can learn about athletes with disabilities.” (Charles Catherine, National Organization on Disability)
Now challenge yourself and your friends to our Tokyo Paralympics Quiz of the Day, by downloading Quizefy from the app store if you haven’t already done so, then see how much you know and Strut Your Smart. Our Tokyo Paralympics Quiz is only available today, then it disappears. We’ll be back again every Tuesday with a special blog posted at www.quizefy.com, along with a new trivia quiz on the same topic as the blog. Don’t forget to follow Quizefy in social media, so we can remind you of upcoming blog and quiz content.