As the London 2012 Paralympics draw to a close we can look back on a fortnight full of excitement and not a little controversy. Over 160 nations have taken part in a Games which have challenged current perceptions of what it means to be disabled. Indeed Channel 4, official broadcaster for the Games, has branded the Paralympians “Superhuman” in an advertising campaign that forces us to reassess our mindset on Paralympian sport.
The Paralympic Movement was born at Stoke Mandeville hospital where athletic events were held for British WW2 veterans following the London 1948 Olympics. Taking a look at an early news report from ITV shot at Stoke Mandeville in 1956 it is clear that it was already becoming an international event.
In 1984 the Games returned to Stoke Mandeville unexpectedly. The original American hosts (University of Illinois ) pulled out due to financial problems and Stoke Mandeville agreed to co-host the Games together with New York. They had only 4 months notice to organise the event.
Britain has produced many inspirational paralympic athletes, of whom perhaps the most famous is Baroness Grey-Thompson; better known simply as ‘ Tanni’. During her careeer she won 16 Paralympic medals for wheelchair racing events, of which 11 were gold.
The London 2012 Paralympic Games will be making history as the second biggest multi-sport event ever held in the UK as well as being the largest and most commercially successful Paralympics held to date. Millions of spectators have enjoyed watching an event which previously received relatively little media coverage. The Paralympics really have become ‘mainstream’ giving them the power to change social attitudes to disability, which must surely be to the benefit of us all.