Three years after the end of the Second World War, Dr. Ludwig Guttmann organized a sports competition for veterans with spinal cord injuries. They competed in wheelchairs at a rehabilitation hospital northwest of London.
When the meet was held again in 1952, competitors from the Netherlands took part – and an international movement was born.
This week, athletes from more than 140 countries are gathering in Beijing to take part in the 2008 Paralympics. They will compete in 20 sports.
Here are some of the major developments in Paralympics history:
1944: At the request of the British government, Guttmann opens a spinal-injuries centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, 74 kilometres northwest of London. Sports are part of the remedial treatment and rehabilitation.
1948: First major sports competition for athletes with disabilities is held at the hospital on the same day as the opening of the 1948 Summer Olympics in London. All participants in the Stoke Mandeville Games have spinal cord injuries.
1952: Former servicemen from the Netherlands join their British counterparts in the Stoke Mandeville Games. The International Stoke Mandeville Games Committee is established.
1960: First quadrennial Summer Games for disabled athletes are held in Rome, right after the Summer Olympics. Four hundred disabled athletes from 23 countries participate. (Forty-four years later, 3,806 athletes from 136 countries would compete at the Paralympics in Athens.)
Canadian amputee named outstanding athlete
Canadian Arnie Boldt was the star of the 1976 Paralympics in Toronto. The 18-year-old athlete, who had lost his right leg in a grain auger accident at the age of three, won the high jump and the long jump, setting world records in both events. The native of Saskatoon, Sask., was honoured at the closing ceremony as the Games outstanding athlete.
He was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 1977. Also that year, Boldt appeared on the CBC show Front Page Challenge. When asked about his high-jump technique, Bold described it as "a dive, sort of straddle, sort of roll."
1976: Paralympics are held in Toronto and, for the first time, disabled athletes without spinal cord injuries are included. Amputees and visually impaired athletes compete for the first time.
1976: First quadrennial Winter Games for disabled athletes are held in Ornskoldsvik, Sweden. Athletes from 12 countries compete in two events. (Twenty-six years later, athletes from 36 countries would compete in five events.)
1980: Guttmann dies
1988: It becomes practice to hold the Paralympics in the same city as the Olympics
1992: The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) is established to "enable Paralympic athletes to achieve sporting excellence and inspire and excite the world." Today, the organization includes representatives from 162 national Paralympic committees, four international organizations of sport for the disabled, five regional organizations and six international sports federations.
1992: The four-year cycle is modified so that the Winter and Summer Paralympics coincide with the Olympics.
2001: the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee agree on the practice of "one bid, one city," in which every city that bids to host the Olympics also bids to hold the related Paralympics.
2000 scandal leads to exclusion of mentally disabled athletes
Members of the Spanish team that won the basketball tournament for athletes with intellectual disabilities at the 2000 Paralympics in Sydney were stripped of their gold medals when it was revealed they had not been tested for mental disabilities. In fact, 10 of the 12 players on the team were not disabled.
The Spanish Federation for Mentally Handicapped Sports was accused of signing up athletes who were not intellectually disabled in order to win medals and gain more sponsorship money.
The IPC reacted by barring athletes with intellectual disabilities from the Paralympic Games. The IPC will review the ban after the Beijing Paralympics.