The Paralympic Games: 54 years and getting ready for Rio

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The Paralympic Games are held every second year. Alternating between summer and winteri games, they are the peak international sporting event for athletes with physical and sensorial disabilities. In the most recent 2012 Paralympic Games in London, representatives from 164 competing countriesii participated in twentyiii sports, while at the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, 45 countriesiv competed in five winter sportsv.

The Australian Paralympic Committee encourages participation in para-sports among many Australians living with disability. Pictured is Alpine star Cameron Rahles-Rahbula. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons, uploaded by user: Bidgee.

Australia at the Paralympic Games

Since the inaugural summer Paralympic Games were held in Rome in 1960, Australia has been well representedvi,vii. Australia has also officially participated in all but the first winter Paralympic Games. At the first event in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden in 1976, Australian Ron Finneran competed but was not officially recognised as he did not fall into the amputee or visual impairment categoriesviii.

At the Paralympics, Australian athletes compete in a wide range of sports such as para-canoe, equestrian, wheelchair basketball and judo. One of our well-known teams is the Rollers, who represent Australia in men's wheelchair basketball. Team triumphs include gold medal success in both the 1996 Atlanta Games and the 2008 Beijing Gamesix,x. The team achieved silver medals at Athens 2004 and London 2012x. The women's wheelchair basketball team, the Gliders, have also had a run of success, gaining three silver medals and one bronze starting with the Sydney 2000 Gamesx. Australia has performed exceptionally well in athletics, swimming and cycling over the years at the Paralympics with notable achievements from Matthew Cowdrey (swimming) and Tim Sullivan (athletics), who have contributed 13 and 10 gold medals respectively to the overall medal tallyxi,xii.

The medal success of our Australian Paralympic Team has risen considerably over the years. At the Rome 1960 Games, 10 medals were awarded to the team while at the London 2012 Games, 85 were awarded. For the past three summer Paralympic Games, Australia has placed fifth on the medal tally, while at the Sydney Paralympic Games in 2000, the Australian team came first place in the medal tally with an astounding 149 medals - the highest number of medals ever achieved at one Paralympic Games for the Australian Paralympic teamvi!

Famous Australian Paralympians

The Australian Paralympic Committee presents the 'Australian Paralympian of the Year' award in years that the Paralympics are held. Jacqueline Freney is the most recent recipient of this honour having represented Australia for swimming at the London 2012 Paralympic Gamesxiii. Freney won a record eight gold medals for eight events in swimming, breaking two world record times in the 400m freestyle and the 200m individual medleyxiv. In 2014, she was named Young Australian of the Year and was given the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) for her service to sportxv.

Louise Sauvage has won countless titles and medals in wheelchair racing. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons, uploaded by user: Australian Paralympic Committee.

Louise Sauvage has won the 'Australian Paralympian of the Year' award a record four times and has been inducted into the Australian Paralympic Hall of Famexiii. She lays claim to nine gold and four silver medals from four Paralympic Games as well as countless gold medals from IPC World Athletics Championships and prestigious road races in wheelchair racingxvi. Sauvage has become one of the country's most famous sportspeople. She is inspired by her personal motto 'you never know what you can achieve until you try'xvii.

Rio is preparing to host the next summer Paralympic Games in 2016, where an expected 4,350 athletes from 176 countries will compete in the first Paralympic Games to be held in South America. Over the 12 days of competition, there will be 528 medal events across 23 sportsxviii. PyeongChang in South Korea will host the Paralympic Winter Games in 2018: more than 690 athletes from over 50 countries are expected to competexix.

iInternational Paralympic Committee, Paralympic Games, viewed 1 September 2014,

iiInternational Paralympic Committee, Participation Numbers London 2012 Paralympic Games, viewed 1 September 2014,

iiiInternational Paralympic Committee, London 2012 Overview - Ceremonies, Medals, Torch Relay, viewed 12 November 2014,

ivInternational Paralympic Committee, Participation Numbers Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, viewed 1 September 2014,

vInternational Paralympic Committee, Sochi 2014 Overview - Ceremonies, Medals, Torch Relay, viewed 12 November 2014,

viAustralian Paralympic Committee, Paralympic Games History - Summer, viewed 12 November 2014,

viiInternational Paralympic Committee, Rome 1960, viewed 1 September 2014,

viiiAustralian Paralympic Committee, Paralympic Games History - Winter, viewed 12 November 2014,

ixMcGarry, A. 2008, 'Aust Rollers win gold', ABC News, 17 September, viewed 19 September 2014,

xInternational Paralympic Committee, IPC Historical Results Database, viewed 3 September 2014,

xiAustralian Paralympic Committee, Matthew Cowdrey, viewed 3 September 2014,

xiiAustralian Paralympic Committee, Tim Sullivan, viewed 3 September 2014,

xiiiAustralian Paralympic Committee, Australian Paralympian of the Year, viewed 1 September 2014,

xivAustralian Paralympic Committee, Jacqueline Freney, viewed 1 September 2014,

xvAustralian of the Year Awards, Young Australian of the Year 2014, viewed 3 September 2014,

xviAustralian Paralympic Committee, Australian Paralympic Hall of Fame, viewed 1 September 2014,

xviiCivics and Citizenship Education, Louise Sauvage, viewed 3 September 2014,,15666.html

xviiiRio 2016, Paralympic Games, viewed 1 September 2014,

xixPyeongChang 2018, The PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games, viewed 1 September 2014,