English neurosurgeon Sir Ludwig Guttmann—who pioneered the implementation of recreational activity for rehabilitating spinal cord injuries—first conceived the idea for the Paralympic Games in 1948. Guttmann’s intention behind this was to enable athletic therapy for the wheelchair-bound. Coinciding with the 1948 Olympic Games in London, Guttmann’s International Wheelchair Games debuted in Aylesbury, England at the Stroke Mandeville Hospital. Only a few spinal cord patients participated, primarily with the goal of learning exercises to improve their day-to-day lives.
When wounded former Dutch soldiers seeking to compete with the British athletes came to England in 1952, the International Wheelchair Games evolved into the International Stroke Mandeville Games. Moving to Rome in 1960, the Paralympic Games—now established alongside the Olympics—swelled to 400 athletes, representing 23 countries.
The events included sports such as basketball, fencing, archery and swimming. In subsequent years, the Olympics and Paralympics have occurred in the same area as often as possible. Under the direction of the International Paralympic Committee, and with acknowledgement from the International Olympic Committee, the Paralympic Games have continued their pattern of growth. The selling of the television rights for the 1988 Seoul Paralympics engaged a worldwide audience, as it was televised for the first time.
The Rio Paralympic Games showcased approximately 4,350 athletes from Sept. 7-18—athletes who represented over 160 countries—competing in 22 different events for the opportunity to medal in 528 total events.
Since the 2012 London games, the number of female participants—around 1,650 partaking in 224 events—has increased nearly 10 percent. Furthermore, this number has more than doubled since the 1996 games in Atlanta.
Premiering at the Rio games, canoeing and the triathlon both held six medal events, which were split evenly among the men and women. This brought the total number of sports represented to over 20.
While Chicago, Tokyo and Madrid also vied for the honor of hosting the 2016 Paralympics, three rounds of voting by eligible Committee members manifested in a victory for Rio de Janeiro, which garnered 66 of the possible 98 votes.
In a statement on their webpage, the Organizing Committee for the 2016 Rio Paralympics established their intent to “deliver excellent Games, with memorable celebrations that will promote the global image of Brazil, underpinned by social and urban sustainable transformation through sport, contributing to the growth of the Olympic and Paralympic Movements.” Indeed, the 2016 games met this goal.
The Rio Paralympics held their closing ceremony on Sunday Sept. 18, featuring a tribute to Bahman Golbarnezhad, the Iranian cyclist who crashed on the mountainous terrain of the Grumari loop and later died in the hospital.
At the conclusion of the games, the total medal count for the top-five countries stood at China with 239 total, 107 gold, Great Britain with 147 total, 64 gold, Ukraine with 117 total, 41 gold, United States with 115 total, 40 gold and Australia with 81 total, 22 gold.