By Steph Barber – ISN
Victoria (ISN) – The 2012 Paralympic Games are set to begin in London on August 29th and our own Parathlete Steph Barber provides some insight into the background and meaning of the games for the athletes.
Every two years we wait in anticipation of the arrival of the alternating summer and Winter Olympics. Going back to 1896 in Athens, with the Modern Olympic Games, we have watched/followed and cheered on our favourite athletes/countries as they aimed to reach their personal best, and ultimately, the podium.
But how many of you truly are aware and follow the Paralympic games and their athletes? For so many people with disabilities around the world, reaching the Paralympic Games is their ultimate dream. For their family and friends, they are introduced to a world, which little is known to the general population.
The idea of competitive sport for athletes with disabilities was founded by Dr. Ludwig Guttmann, when injured veterans were returning from World War II, as part of their rehabilitation. In 1948 he organized the International Wheelchair Games. Twelve years later in 1960, the Paralympic Games were born. The first Paralympic Games were held in Rome, with 400 wheelchair athletes, represented by 23 countries.
From 1960 – 1992, the Paralympic and Olympic games were held at different times. The Paralympics also had different locations for different disability competitions. Since 1992 however, the Olympics and Paralympics are held in the same city. The Paralympics follow the Olympics by two weeks.
The Paralympics are governed by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), which was founded in 1989. The IPC’s vision is to enable Paralympic athletes to achieve sporting excellence and inspire and excite the world.
Just like the Olympics and the Olympic Rings, the Paralympics have the Paralympic Agitos. This symbol and its colours represent the most prominent colours of the flags in the Countries that are represented at the Paralympics.
The Paralympics are for athletes with physical disabilities (amputee, cerebral palsy, wheelchair – i.e. spinal cord injuries or spina bifida (birth defect), blind, and Les Autres (literally “The Others”). London’s 2012 Paralympics will be the Paralympics biggest showing yet, with 4,000 athletes represented by 163 countries.
In most Paralympic sports, athletes compete against other athletes with abilities similar to themselves. This is called the classification system. It’s based on the level and functional ability of an athlete.
Paralympic athletes train 6-7 days a week and as much as 5 hours a day. Our Paralympic athletes are elite athletes who just have different abilities. As you watch and get to know the athletes, you see nothing, but pure athleticism.
Each of these athletes have one goal in mind – to reach the podium and be the worlds best!
In London, Canada will be represented by 145 athletes competing in 15 (of the 20) sports.
For more information about the Paralympics & Team Canada, please visit the Canadian Paralympic Committee at http://www.paralympic.ca/