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50 things to know before you watch the Paralympic Games

Ibrahim Hamadtou, joueur de para tennis de table
  1. The Paralympic Games celebrated its 60th anniversary last spring. The first official edition was held in 1960 and was known as “The Stoke Mandeville Games” after the hospital of the same name.

2. The story of the Paralympic Games began in 1948 at a military hospital to the north of London. Neurologist Sir Ludwig Guttmann was trying to find a way to speed up the recovery of his paraplegic patients, all of whom were World War Two veterans. He came up with the idea of organising a series of sports competitions to be held at the same time as the Olympic Games in London.

3. The Paralympic Games always takes place around two weeks after the Olympic Games.

4. Since 1988, the Olympic and Paralympic Games have been held in the same city and at the same venues.

5. The prefix “para” in the word Paralympic means “alongside” in Greek. The idea is therefore that the Paralympic Games exist alongside the Olympic Games.

6. Originally, the Paralympic Games were the sole reserve of wheelchair athletes. However, the official programme of the 1976 Paralympic Games was expanded to include competitors with other forms of disability (amputations, visual impairments, etc.).

7. The symbol of the Paralympic Games is made up of three waves called “Agitos”, which means “I move” in Latin.

8. The Games are an opportunity to discover two sports that exist only at the Paralympic Games: boccia and goalball.

9. Since the London 2012 Paralympic Games, the guides (in para athletics and para triathlon) and pilots (in para cycling and para triathlon) are also awarded medals.

10. Each Paralympic sport has its own system of classification, which helps to ensure fair and equal competition. Athletes are classified depending on the amount of impact their impairment has on their sporting performance.

11. No prostheses are allowed in para swimming; swimmers compete without the aid of accessories.

12. Only three disciplines are open to athletes with an intellectual disability: para athletics, para swimming and para table tennis.

13. Boccia is a Paralympic sport derived from petanque. It is played in wheelchairs by athletes with severe motor impairments.

14. The hoop used in wheelchair basketball is 3.05 metres from the ground, just like at the Olympic Games. There’s no difference, it’s all about skill and dedication!

15. Wheelchair tennis players are allowed to let the ball bounce twice. This modification to the rules was introduced because of the specific in-play demands that come with using a wheelchair. A second bounce is always permitted, even if the ball is out when it lands for the second time.

16. You do not need a hand to serve the ball in table tennis. For proof, look no further than Egypt’s Ibrahim Hamato.

Ibrahim Hamadtou, joueur de para tennis de table

17. The balls used in blind football and goalball are filled with bells. They make a noise when they roll so that the players can locate them.

18. Para judo is practised exclusively by visually impaired athletes. In order to sense one another’s position, competitors must remain in constant contact by holding each other’s judogi.

19. Para taekwondo is for athletes with upper limb disabilities. Kyorugi will be the only taekwondo discipline on show at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

20. The equestrian disciplines are represented at the Paralympic Games by para dressage. There is no show jumping.

21. In sitting volleyball, players leave their chairs at the side of the court and move around on their buttocks by using their arms.

22. Wheelchair rugby is played indoors with a round ball.

23. In boccia, the target ball is called the “jack”.

24. In para archery, archers who are unable to shoot with a conventional bow, owing to their disability, may use an assistive device that reduces the force required to maintain the tension of the bow.

25. In para athletics, athletes competing in the T12 (visual impairment) categories may choose to run with or without a guide.

26. In blind football, players are blindfolded to ensure a fair and equal competition for all.

27. Just like at the Olympic Games, there is a Refugee Team at the Paralympic Games. The team had two members at the Rio Games and will be made up of six athletes at the Tokyo Paralympic Games.

28. Two types of boat are used in para canoeing: the kayak (double paddle) and the pirogue, also known as the Va’a (single paddle).

29. At the Paralympic Games, para swimming is open to athletes with all types of disabilities.

30. The world record for the wheelchair marathon stands at 01:20:14 (held by Switzerland’s Heinz Frei in the T53-54 category).

31. Wheelchair rugby is a mixed sport.

32. Para badminton and para taekwondo will make their Paralympic debuts in Tokyo.

33. Wheelchair rugby was known as “murderball” in its early days because of the brutal collisions between the chairs.

34. A red sticker on a judoka’s kimono means that he/she is classified as B1, i.e. blind.

35. Wheelchair basketball players may not push their wheels more than twice when they have the ball on their thighs, or they will be punished for the equivalent of a “travelling” violation.

36. In para athletics, the athlete must always cross the finish line before his or her guide, and not the other way around.

37. Para cyclists compete on four different types of bicycle: “classic” bikes, tandems, handbikes and tricycles.

38. Set by Markus Rehm (T64) at the European Para Championships in 2021, the long jump world record stands at 8.62 metres.

39. Since the sport made its Paralympic debut, Brazil has won every blind football tournament held at the Paralympic Games.

40. In wheelchair fencing, the athletes compete in wheelchairs that are fastened to the floor using a special device. As the competitors cannot move forwards or backwards, they remain very close to their opponents, thereby guaranteeing high intensity matches.

41. In the para triathlon, athletes with lower limb disabilities receive assistance to get out of the water. They are helped to a pre-transition area before continuing the race.

42. In the long jump, athletes with a visual impairment can find their bearings thanks to the aid of a guide, who claps his or her hands to indicate the direction in which they need to jump.

43. The wheelchairs used in wheelchair racing allow the athletes to race at speeds of up to 36 km/h.

44. There are 11 disability classifications in para table tennis.

45. Para powerlifting, performed in the bench press position, is the only form of weightlifting practised at the Paralympic Games. Competitors are separated into categories depending not on their disability but their bodyweight.

46. Visually impaired athletes are able to take part in para cycling on tandem bikes, with the guide riding at the front known as the “pilot”.

47. The wheels on basketball wheelchairs are tilted inwards, both to make it easier to turn and to provide stability.

48. In para archery, athletes who do not have the use of their arms – such as Matt Stutzman of the USA – may shoot with their feet.

49. Each para triathlon race comprises 750m of open water swimming, 20 km of cycling and 5 km of running.

50. Athletes often record faster times at the Paralympic Games than at the Olympics. In Rio in 2016, Algeria’s Abdellatif Baka won the 1500m gold in 03:48:29, while Matthew Centrowitz of the USA had become the Olympic champion two weeks earlier in a time of 03:50:00.