Athletic competitions for all people with disabilities


Sporting events like the Paralympics, Deaflympics or Special Olympics were named in reference to the Olympic Games. But ultimately all of these events still stand in the shadow of the Olympics. That’s reason enough to pay a little more attention to these sporting events for people with different disabilities.

Photo: Weight lifter during Special Olympics; Copyright: SOD/Andreas Bister

The Special Olympics Germany took place in Düsseldorf in 2014. Here you can see Konstantin Rau. In 2016 Hanover will host the Games; © SOD/Andreas Bister

It all began in the year 1948 with the first "Stoke Mandeville Games" where disabled British soldiers competed against each other in athletic competitions. Twelve years later, the first official Paralympics took place in Rome, Italy. Four hundred athletes from 21 nations participated in these Games. In 1976, Sweden hosted the first Winter Paralympic Games. At this point, Summer and Winter Olympics are held every two years. In 2014, the Winter Paralympics took place in Russia; this year, the Summer Paralympics will take place in Rio de Janeiro/South America. While they were initially still called "World Wheelchair Games", "World Wheelchair and Amputee Games" or "The Olympics for the Handicapped", the official name has been "Paralympics" since 1988 in Seoul, South Korea.

Whereas the athletes at the "Stoke Mandeville Games" only competed in archery events, this year, they face off in 22 disciplines; that’s two more than in London in 2012. This year, wheelchair tennis is even celebrating its 40th anniversary as a Paralympic sport. However, sailing will no longer be a discipline during the upcoming 2020 Games in Tokyo.

More than Paralympics

And even though the Paralympics are the best known top sporting event for people with physical disabilities, there are other events that are often forgotten.

In 1968, Eunice Kennedy-Shriver, sister of former U.S. president John F. Kennedy, founded the Special Olympics for people with so-called learning disabilities (also called "mental disabilities"). It is the only organization that is allowed to carry the term "Olympics" in its name – and is officially recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Sports like soccer, cycling and roller skating are among the 27 official disciplines. Aside from the International Games, the Special Olympic World Games, there are also the regular Special Olympic National Games in Germany. This year, approximately 4,800 athletes are going to compete in Hanover in 18 sports from June 6-10. Aside from competitions to win medals, there are also non-competitive opportunities. In addition, the Unified Sports concept was developed where people with and without learning disabilities train together in teams and participate in separate competitions.

Despite its high profile, the general media reporting of the Paralympics still does not receive the same coverage as the Olympic Games. The Special Olympics receive even less attention. And then there is yet one more sporting event that gets almost no media attention: the Deaflympics. And yet the first Deaflympics already took place in Paris, France, in 1924, more than 20 years before the very first Paralympics were even on the horizon – back then they were still called "World Games for the Deaf". During the first Games, only 148 athletes from nine nations participated. At the Deaflympics in Taiwan in 2009, that number had risen to 4,000 athletes. Since 1949, the Games have taken place every four years. The Winter and Summer Games alternate every two years. However, the Deaflympics always take place one year after the Olympic and Paralympic competitions. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) recognized the Games for the Deaf in 2001. Since then, the Games may officially be called "Deaflympics".

Photo: Man in a sport wheelchair holding a tennis racket; Copyright: Rjabow

Wheelchair tennis is a paralympic discipline for already 40 years now; © Rjabow

Promoting young talent

It continuously takes young talents for both the Paralympics and the Special Olympics and Deaflympics to endure in the future and get more media attention and social interest in competitive sports for people with disabilities. This talent needs to be discovered and promoted. One option for this is the German "Youth trains for Paralympics" ("Jugend trainiert für Paralympics") national competition. School teams from all 16 German federal states can participate in this event. Teams from special or integrated schools and schools that incorporate the inclusion approach are allowed to participate. The competition is held in various sports depending on the specific disability: track and field and swimming are open for all types of disabilities. All athletes with "physical and mobility impairments" compete in table tennis and wheelchair basketball. Cross-country skiing and goalball are offered in the area of "visual impairments" and athletes in the "learning disability" category have the option of competing in soccer and cross-country skiing.

Since the Winter finals in cross-country skiing and Spring finals in goalball, wheelchair basketball and table tennis already took place for 2016, the Fall finals still need to be carried out. From September 18-22, students with learning disabilities can compete in soccer. In addition, there are competitions in track and field and swimming. The deadline is July 29, 2016.

Photo: Nadine Lormis; Copyright: B. Frommann

© B. Frommann

Nadine Lormis
(translated by Elena O'Meara)

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