Here’s how the Paralympics became one of the biggest sporting events on Earth. Sports programs for disabled athletes have existed since the 1800s. But the idea of a single, organized international competition didn’t catch on until after World War II. And it’s all thanks to one person — Dr. Ludwig Guttmann.
Guttmann was a spinal physician in Britain and began using sports as a type of therapy for veterans who had become disabled in the war. In 1984, he organized the “Stoke-Mandville Games for the Paralyzed.” Only 16 athletes participated, but the idea caught on. 12 years later, the first Paralympics took place in Italy — this time, with 400 athletes on hand.
16 years after that, the first winter Paralympics were held in 1976. That one featured 198 athletes from 16 different countries. And as the years go on, the Paralympics’ numbers continue to grow, not just in athletes, but in the number of different impairments represented, and the number of sporting events included. This year’s winter games will host a record 567 athletes in six different sports and will be broadcast for over 250 hours of competition — showing how a single doctor’s idea for medical treatment went on to become a global sports movement.