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Toronto hosts '76 disabled Olympiad

Wheelchair racers speeding to victory, blind swimmers competing for gold, and disabled skiers pushing their bodies to the limit. These are today's Paralympians. They train hard. They play to win. And in recent years, Canadians have been winning big at the Paralympic Games. The Paralympics began as a postwar sporting event designed to get injured ex-soldiers moving again. But by the 1980s the Games had evolved into an elite international competition.

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The 1976 Olympiad for the Physically Disabled has just wrapped up in Toronto. At the closing ceremonies, Canadian amputee high jumper Arnie Boldt was named "Outstanding Performer of the Games." "That's the story of these Games - disabled athletes proving they have the ability to be competitors," says reporter Karen Fetterly. This CBC Radio news clip also features Sir Ludwig Guttmann, founder of the games, lamenting the fact that politics entered this year's event.

Several countries withdrew because apartheid South Africa had been allowed to compete. But Guttmann believes that everyone should be allowed to compete. He thinks political protests have no place in this event. "We are determined that our disabled athletes must keep the right to compete in friendship, unity and sportsmanship," says Guttmann.
• The name of the event became the Olympiad for the Physically Disabled in 1976 because it now included a variety of disabilities.
• For the first time, visually impaired athletes and amputees were included in the Olympiad in 1976. Visually impaired sports had been included as demonstration events in 1972, but in Toronto they were now official medal events.

• There were several new medal events introduced in 1976. These included wheelchair racing, rifle shooting and goalball -- a team sport for the blind involving a ball with bells inside.
• The 1976 Olympiad for the Physically Disabled took place in Toronto right after the 1976 Montreal Games. The Olympiad opened on August 2 and closed on August 11.

• Toronto's Dr. Robert Jackson chaired the organizing committee for the 1976 Olympiad. Jackson was an instrumental figure in Canada's Paralympic history - he had also been responsible for first bringing Canada into the Games in 1968. After attending the 1964 games in Tokyo, Jackson decided Canada should make it a priority to participate and he pushed for this to happen.

• Like Montreal's Olympic Games, which had their share of political boycotts and turmoil, Toronto's Olympiad wasn't immune to political controversy. The organizers decided to allow South Africa's team to compete despite the country's apartheid policies. Dr. Jackson argued that the team was racially integrated, so the athletes themselves shouldn't be barred from competition. But several countries, led by Kenya, dropped out the Olympiad and the Canadian government withdrew funding for the Games in protest of South Africa being allowed in.

• At the closing ceremonies on Aug. 11, 1976, 18-year-old Arnie Boldt from Canada was named "outstanding performer of the Games." The one-legged high jumper from Saskatchewan won a gold medal for jumping 1.86 metres, a world record for amputee high jumping. Boldt's jump was just seven centimetres short of the able-bodied women's gold medallist in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, who jumped 1.93 metres. The able-bodied men's gold medallist at the Montreal Olympics jumped 2.25 metres.

• Boldt's feat made the front page of the Globe and Mail on Aug. 8, 1976, the day after his world record jump. The Globe noted that right before Boldt attempted the world record, "Olympiad organizers stopped all other track and field events so everyone could watch him do it."

• In total, approximately 1,600 athletes from 42 countries participated at Toronto's Olympiad.
• Canada won 26 gold medals.
• The following Games in 1980 were also known as the Olympiad for the Physically Disabled. The term "Paralympics" was only approved for use by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1984. Paralympics is a shortened version of "parallel Olympics"; not, as some people believe, a variation on "paralysed Olympics."

• 1976 was also the year the Winter Paralympics first appeared. These Games took place in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden. This was a very small event with only 12 countries competing and the only sports were downhill and cross-country skiing for amputee and visually impaired athletes. Canada had six competitors at the first Winter Paralympics, and won a total of three medals.
Medium: Radio
Program: CBC Radio News
Broadcast Date: Aug. 12, 1976
Guest(s): Ludwig Guttmann
Reporter: Karen Fetterly
Duration: 1:31

Last updated: August 19, 2013

Page consulted on July 11, 2014

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