Records Set for Paralympic Games
Despite some setbacks, a record number of athletes have participated.
By: Kelli Ballard | August 28, 2021 | 749 Words
The Paralympics began this week in Tokyo, and despite some obstacles, the mood was uplifted and excited. The word “Paralympic” originates from the Greek “para” (beside) and the word “Olympic,” which means that the two games exist side-by-side.
The opening ceremonies saw athletes representing countries, most decked out in costumes and dazzling outfits. The first to enter the area for the parade of nations was the refugee team. This group represents disabled refugees from across the world who don’t have a country. A somber moment was next as a Japanese volunteer carried the Afghanistan flag because the two athletes were unable to attend due to the chaos in the country right now. Zakia Khudadadi was to be the first Afghan woman to compete in the Paralympic Games, but she was trapped in Kabul and could not attend.
Another volunteer took up the flag for New Zealand athletes who could not attend because the country didn’t want to risk the health of its people. The country announced it would not participate because the event was against its COVID-19 protocols, according to Paula Tesoriero, the chef de mission.
Setting New Records
Despite these setbacks, this year’s competition had the biggest turnout of athletes ever. There are 4,403 athletes taking part, compared to the previous record in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where 4,328 participated in 2016. “To break the record for the highest number of athletes at Tokyo 2020 is testament to the tremendous work of all [committees] and International Federations who have gone above and beyond the call of duty during the most testing of times,” said the president of the International Paralympic Committee, Andrew Parsons.
A new record was also set for the number of female athletes, with 1,853 compared to Rio’s record of 1,671.
When it comes to American athletes, teens Anastasia Pagonis and Gia Pergolini won gold in the swimming finals. Nick Mayhugh set a new world record in the 100m sprint, while the whole athletics team has performed well.
Roxanne Trunnell won a gold medal in the equestrian competition – the first U.S. win in that event since 1996. Trunnell lost the use of her legs in 2009 after catching the H1N1 virus, which put her in a coma and caused a stroke. At first, she didn’t want to compete as a Paralympian.
“I was very against Para dressage,” she admitted. “As far as I was concerned, I was going to ride my horse in able–bodied dressage and I wouldn’t even hear about Para.” But then her trainer convinced her to try the sport, leading Trunnell to change her mind. She said:
“Becoming a Para dressage rider in a way opened my eyes to the fact that even if things become a little different than the usual ‘normal’ you can still find a way to do them and be successful.”
History of the Paralympics
A competition for disabled athletes is not a new notion. The first sports club existed in Berlin in 1888 for the deaf. It wasn’t until after World War II, however, that the idea became more popular. At that time, the purpose was to help war veterans and civilians who had been injured during wartime.
In 1944, at the request of the British government, German-British neurologist Dr. Ludwig Guttmann opened a spinal injuries center at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital. Before then in the U.K., people with such injuries were “left in hospital to die because the assumption was that you wouldn’t have anything to contribute back to society so you might as well be allowed to slip away,” explained Baroness Tanni Grey Thompson in 2012. However, Dr. Guttmann worked hard to change people’s perceptions.
July 29, 1948, was the date of the opening ceremony for the London Olympic Games. On that day, Dr. Guttmann held the first Paralympic activity: a wheelchair archery contest for 16 injured servicemen and two women. The event was called the International Wheelchair Games. Early versions of the event were also called the Stoke Mandeville Games. Later, these competitions morphed into the Paralympic Games, which were first held in Rome in 1960. At first, the games only included competitors in wheelchairs, but in 1976, people with other disabilities were invited to join. Today, the Paralympics are a popular event held just after the Olympic Games.