My Way to Olympia

PBS Premiere: July 7, 2014Check the broadcast schedule »

In Context

The first incarnation of the Paralympic Games (sometimes referred to as the Paralympics) took place in England in 1948. The games were organized to provide rehabilitation for World War II veterans with spinal-cord injuries. Other countries participated in the next round of games and, in 1960 in Rome, competitions were held in an Olympic stadium for the first time.

The Paralympic Games are now one of the largest international sporting events in the world. The summer and winter Paralympic Games are held in the same arenas and venues as the Olympic Games, but separately and two weeks later. Like the Olympic Games, the Paralympic Games have opening and closing ceremonies and torch relays. Each country is represented by a national team of athletes who qualify through official competitions. The Summer Paralympic Games in London in 2012 brought together 4,302 Paralympians from 164 countries for 503 sporting events. The winter games, which feature fewer sports, were held in 2014 in Sochi, Russia, with 550 athletes from 45 nations participating in 20 events.

Most Paralympic sports are "adaptive," meaning they have been modified to accommodate different types of disabilities. For athletes with lower body impairments, skiing, hockey and fencing are played as sit-skiing, sled hockey and wheelchair fencing. For athletes with visual impairments, skiing becomes a team sport, with a sighted guide navigating the course for each athlete. All these sports are played on regulation slopes and arenas. In addition, some Paralympic sports, including goalball, boccia and wheelchair or quad rugby, have no Olympic equivalent. New sports continue to be added to the Paralympic Games. For example, a new sport for the 2014 winter games was snowboarding. The audiences and the number of people participating in the Paralympic Games grow with each event.


» Paralympic Movement. "London 2012 Paralympics."

» Paralympic Movement. "Sochi 2014."

» PBS. "Medal Quest."