100 things to know about the Paralympic Games

Countdown to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics with some fascinating facts, historical moments and key information, from the founder of the Movement to the tallest Paralympian!

Picture by 2016 Getty Images

Maybe you did not know much about the father of the Paralympic Movement, Sir Ludwig Guttmann. Or perhaps the differences between Paralympic sports and their Olympic counterparts. There is so much about the Paralympics that will surprise you, apart from the outstanding abilities of Para athletes.

With 17 days until the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, check out what you might have (and not have) known:

1. Badminton and taekwondo will make their Paralympic debuts at Tokyo 2020.

2. Tokyo will make history as the first city to stage the Paralympic Games for a second time, having hosted the event in 1964.

3. The Paralympic mascot for Tokyo 2020 is called Someity, which comes from someiyoshino, a popular cherry blossom variety, and additionally echoes the English phrase “so mighty”.

4. A Refugee Paralympic Team consisting of up to six athletes will compete at Tokyo 2020 and will be led by Chef de Mission and US Paralympian Ileana Rodriguez, herself a former refugee. She competed in swimming at London 2012.

5. The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic torch is designed to depict the shape of a flame. The five flames generated from the petal unite at the centre of the torch, emulating even greater brilliance.

6. Boccia and goalball are the two only sports in the Paralympic programme that do not have an Olympic counterpart.

7. The Rio 2016 Paralympics smashed TV viewing records with a 4.1 billion cumulative audience. With more broadcasters than ever before covering the action, Tokyo 2020 is expected to surpass that number.

8. Hungarian Pal Szekeres became the first and so far only athlete to win Olympic and Paralympic medals after taking wheelchair fencing gold at Barcelona 1992. He had won bronze at the Seoul 1988 Olympics as a professional fencer before suffering a bus accident in 1991.

9. All top four finishers in the Rio 2016 Paralympic 1,500m T13 final, won by Algeria’s Abdellatif Baka (3:48.29), clocked fastest times than the top four finishers in the equivalent event at the Rio 2016 Olympics.

10. The Paralympic Games were founded by Sir Ludwig Guttmann, a Jewish doctor who fled Nazi Germany to England, where he opened a spinal injuries centre at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital.

11. The first edition of the Stoke Mandeville Games – predecessor of the Paralympics - was held on 29 July 1948, with 16 injured servicemen and women competing in archery.

12. The Stoke Mandeville Games later became the Paralympic Games, which first took place in Rome, Italy, in 1960 featuring 400 athletes from 23 countries.

13. The International Paralympic Committee was founded in 1989 to act as the global governing body of the Paralympic Movement.

14. Canoe and triathlon made their Paralympic debuts at Rio 2016. While Great Britain dominated canoe with three golds across six events, USA ended top of the standings in the latter sport thanks to two golds, one silver and one bronze.

15. US swimmer Trischa Zorn is the most decorated Paralympian with 55 medals, 32 being gold. She competed between 1980-2004.

16. Swedish shooting Para sport athlete Jonas Jacobsson is the most decorated male Paralympian with 27 medals, 17 gold. He made his Paralympic debut in Arnhem, Netherlands, in 1980 at age 15, and retired after Rio 2016 at 51, having competed at 10 consecutive Games.

17. Tallest Paralympian is Iran’s sitting volleyball Morteza Mehrzad. Coming in at 2:46m, he is the second tallest man in the world and gold medallist in Rio 2016.

18. Dartchery, which could best be described as a combination between darts and archery, once was part of the Paralympic programme. It was even one of the eight sports at the inaugural Games in Rome in 1960.

19. In shooting Para sport air rifle events, athletes fire at a bulls-eye that is only 0.05cm wide - which is as big as a full-stop on a printed page!

20. Australian shooting Para sport athlete Libby Kosmala was the oldest Paralympian at 74 in Rio. Now retired, Kosmala competed across 12 Paralympic Games between 1972 and 2016, winning 12 medals in the sport (nine golds and three silvers) and a bronze in swimming.

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Picture by 2016 Getty Images

21. Runners with a vision impairment are tethered to guide runners with a tiny strap that will attach to their arms or hands.

22. Runners with a vision impairment must always finish in front of their guide runners.

23. The Japanese women’s wheelchair basketball team accomplished an incredible feat when they defeated the Netherlands for the bronze medal at Sydney 2000. It was the nation’s first medal in the sport since Stoke Mandeville 1984.

24. Spanish archer Antonio Rebollo is the only Paralympian to have lit the Olympic cauldron when he did so at the memorable Barcelona 1992 Opening Ceremony.

25. Players are allowed two bounces of the ball in wheelchair tennis.

26. In wheelchair basketball, a player is allowed two touches of their wheelchair in between a dribble, a shot or a pass. Otherwise, it is a travel violation.

27. Football 5-a-side sighted coaches are positioned behind the attacking goal to direct forward players.

28. A red dot on a Paralympic judoka’s outfit signifies that they are a B1 athlete, meaning they have a very low visual acuity and/or no light perception.

29. The two wheelchair classes and one standing class (for athletes with lower-limb impairments) in Para badminton play half-court for singles.

30. The Beijing 2008 Paralympics acted as a trigger to build more accessible infrastructure across China, including some of the most popular touristic places. Elevators and wheelchair ramps were installed in the Great Wall of China, and accessibility was also improved in the 600-year-old Forbidden City and Imperial Palace.

31. According to figures from the Office of National Statistics, 3.85 million persons with disabilities were in employment in Great Britain in 2018, nearly one million more than before the London 2012 Paralympics.

32. Para taekwondo has world champions from nearly every continent, with Denmark’s Lisa Gjessing, Iran’s Mahdi Pourrahnama, the USA’s Evan Medell, Great Britain’s Amy Truesdale, and Mongolia’s Bolor-Erdene Ganbat among some of the big names coming into Tokyo 2020.

33. Since athletes with different levels of vision impairment can compete in goalball, all players must wear eyeshades to compete and therefore ensure a fair competition.

34. Tokyo 1964 represents the first example of the use of the term ‘Paralympics’ in official documentation.

35. The Paralympics and Olympics have been held together in the same city ever since the Seoul 1988 Games.

36. The word “Paralympic” derives from the Greek preposition “para” (beside or alongside) and the word “Olympic”. Its meaning is that Paralympics are the parallel Games to the Olympics and illustrates how the two movements exist side-by-side.

37. Para equestrian is the only artistic sport on the Paralympic Games programme. It includes mixed gender dressage events (team, individual and freestyle), with athletes being grouped across five classes depending upon the nature and extent of their physical or vision impairment.

38. The Paralympic Symbol (three Agitos) consists of three elements in red, blue and green – the three colours that are most widely represented in national flags around the world. The three Agitos (from the Latin meaning “I move”) encircling a central point symbolise motion, emphasise the role of the Paralympic Movement in bringing athletes together from all corners of the world to compete.

39. Spectators need to stay silent during football 5-a-side and goalball games as players rely on the ball’s sound.

40. While teams in Olympic volleyball are separated by a raised net (2.43m and 2.24m from the top of the net for men and women’s competitions, respectively), sitting volleyball is played from a lower net (1.15m for men, 1.05m for women).

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Picture by 2018 Getty Images

41. Wheelchair rugby was initially called ‘murderball’ for its chair-knocking intensity.

42. Tokyo 2020 will mark a historic moment for Para canoe with the addition of va’a boats for the first time at a Paralympics, together with the kayak events. The kayak is propelled by a double-blade paddle, while the va’a is an outrigger canoe which has an ama (second pontoon) as a support float and is used with a single-blade paddle.

43. The first official Paralympic video game named ‘The Pegasus Dream Tour’ will be launched ahead of Tokyo 2020.

44. Netflix’s ground-breaking Paralympic film Rising Phoenix landed four Sports Emmy nominations in Outstanding Long Sports Documentary, Outstanding Camera Work, Outstanding Editing and Outstanding Music Direction. This year’s ceremony will award winners in 46 categories and will start at 2pm CEST on 8 June.

45. Egyptian armless Rio 2016 Paralympian in table tennis Ibrahim Hamato holds the paddle in his mouth to compete.

46. Paralympic powerlifting legend Sherif Osman of Egypt lifts over 200kg, nearly four times his body weight -competes in the men’s up to 59kg- and the equivalent to 140 bags of flour

47. Distance in Para rowing doubled from 1,000m after Rio 2016, which means Tokyo 2020 will see first Paralympic champions crowned over the new distance of 2,000m.

48. Football 5-a-side is played on a pitch measuring 40m x 20m, with 1m high boards running down both sidelines to keep players and the ball within the field of play.

49. In Para archery, athletes compete with both recurve and compound bows, which feature mechanical pulleys and release aids. Compound bows are not part of the Olympic programme.

50. In boccia, the target white ball is called the ‘jack,’ and whoever throws their ball closest to the jack gets a point.

51. An important rule in sitting volleyball is that players must be sitting and their torso — between buttocks and shoulders — must maintain contact with the floor when playing the ball.

52. Rwanda sent the first women’s sitting volleyball team to represent Africa at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. After winning the 2019 African Championships, they also book their place at Tokyo 2020.

53. After becoming the first amputee swimmer to qualify for the Olympic Games at Beijing 2008, Natalie du Toit competed at her second Paralympics in China taking five gold medals in five events. The South African star retired after London 2012 with 13 Paralympic golds.

54. Sareh Javanmardi made history by becoming Iran’s first ever female gold medallist in shooting Para sport at Rio 2016, winning the P2 (women’s 10m air pistol SH1), swiftly followed by P4 (mixed 50m pistol SH1).

55. Tandem bikes are used in Para cycling for athletes with a vision impairment, with the front rider called a pilot guiding the way.

56. One significant difference between Paralympic and Olympic judo is in the Paralympics, judoka must grip their opponent’s sleeve and lapel and hold still before a match can start.

57. Dutch wheelchair tennis player Esther Vergeer retired after London 2012 with a remarkable 470-match winning streak stretching back more than 10 years and seven Paralympic golds.

58. Wheelchair rugby has two types of wheelchairs – offensive and defensive. Offensive wheelchairs have a round bumper. Defensive wheelchairs have a long bumper protruding from the front for use in stopping opposing players’ movement.

59. The world record in powerlifting is a staggering 310kg, set in the men’s over 107kg by the late Siamand Rahman of Iran at the Rio 2016 Paralympics.

60. A rule specific to Paralympic taekwondo is that only kicks to the trunk count as valid attacks. Kicks to the head are not permitted and result in a warning giving the opponent one point.

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Picture by 2016 Getty Images

61. In Boccia, a pair of callipers is set to the distance between one ball and the jack, then that distance is compared to the distance of another ball from the jack, to determine which of the two is closer. Referees may also use other measuring devices to ensure the correct outcome.

62. Poland’s five-time table tennis Paralympic champion Natalia Partyka is one of the few Para athlete to have competed in the Olympics as well when she did so in 2008, 2012, and 2016.

63. Brazilian Petrucio Ferreira (10.42 in T46/47) and Cuban Omara Durand (11.40 in T12) set the two fastest times ever in men’s and women’s 100m races, respectively.

64. Iranian archer Zahra Nemati competed at both the Paralympics and Olympics in 2016, becoming the first Iranian athlete and first Asian woman to do so.

65. ‘Tappers’ are assistants who tap the head of a swimmer with a vision impairment to let them know when to make a turn.

66. Paralympic swimming legend Daniel Dias will retire after Tokyo 2020. The Brazilian competed in three editions of the Paralympic Games from Beijing 2008 to Rio 2016, taking 24 medals – more than any other male Para swimmer in history.

67. Former Formula 1 driver Alex Zanardi created at London 2012 one of the most iconic images in Paralympic history, 11 years after suffering a life-threatening CART Championships accident. The Italian sat on the finish line following his road cycling gold in the men’s individual time trial H4, while holding his racing bike in one hand and making a triumphant first with the other.

68. Wheelchair fencers cover the lower half of their body with a metal apron to make sure hits to off-target areas are not registered.

69. Italian sensation Bebe Vio was only 19 years old when she won her first wheelchair fencing Paralympic gold medal in the women’s foil category B at Rio 2016.

70. Football 5-a-side is played with no throw-ins and no offside rule.

71. Since Rio 2016, the size of the goal in football 5-a-side increased from 3m wide x 2m high to the size of a hockey goal (3.66m wide x 2.14m high). This may lead to higher-scoring matches.

72. In Para triathlon, “handlers” work with athletes who have lower-limb impairments to help them in transition areas.

73. An iconic Paralympic moment occurred at the Opening Ceremony of Beijing 2008, when Chinese athletics Paralympic champion Hou Bin pushing left the world in awe. With the Paralympic torch fixed to his wheelchair, Bin used his bare hands – and every ounce of energy in his body – to haul himself and his wheelchair 39 metres into the air and light the cauldron on the stadium’s roof in front of astonished 90,000 spectators.

74. Wheelchair basketball players “tilt” in their chairs to gain a little extra height for shots, rebounds and blocking shots, as well as for the tip-off at the start of the game.

75. Brazil’s judo legend Antonio Tenorio holds the record for having won six medals at consecutive Games (1996-2016), with the first four being gold (also a record).

76. Boccia’s roots date back to Ancient Greece, where players threw large stones at a stone target. There were also objects and mural engravings relating to a similar form of boccia that were found as early as 5200 BC during the excavation of the tombs in Egypt. The sport was also played in marketplaces and in the streets during the Middle Ages, and the word ‘boccia’ is derived from the Italian meaning to bowl.

77. Under Olympic rules in table tennis, the ball must be placed in the open palm of the hand, thrown at least 16 cm into the air perpendicular to the table, and struck. At the Paralympics, where this is not possible, the ball may be tossed by placing it on the elbow or on the racket.

78. Goalball was invented in 1946 to help rehabilitate veterans who had lost their sight during the Second World War. Hans Lorenzen of Austria and Sepp Reindle of Germany are credited with inventing the game.

79. Wheelchair rugby uses a size 5 volleyball with a modified surface to aid grip.

80. Track Para cycling made its Paralympic debut at Atlanta 1996, and road cycling at New York/Stoke Mandeville 1984.

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Picture by 2016 Getty Images

81. In cycling, athletes with physical impairments either compete on handcycles, tricycles or bicycles. Athletes with a vision impairment compete on tandems with a sighted 'pilot.'

82. Reigning wheelchair rugby world champions Japan won their first Paralympic medal with bronze at Rio 2016.

83. A 2004 Olympian, Austria’s Pepo Puch was involved in an accident in 2008. But he found his way back on a horse and went on to win gold medals at the 2012 and 2016 Paralympics.

84. Para canoe first featured with exhibition status under the name “paddleability” at the 2009 Canoe Sprint World Championships in Dartmouth, Canada, and was given official status as Para canoe at the following year’s edition in Poznan, Poland.

85. Some athletes competing in Para dressage use compensating aids such as a soft handhold attached to the front of the saddle if they cannot grip the reins.

86. Wheelchair tennis was invented in 1976 by Brad Parks, who had been experimenting with tennis as a recreational therapy after he was injured while skiing.

87. In powerlifting, each referee controls a white and a red light, with these two colours representing a “good lift” and “no lift”, respectively. An athlete must receive a minimum of two good lifts for their attempt to count towards the result.

88. After a ball is thrown in goalball, the defending players have 10 seconds to throw the ball back after one of them touches it.

89. Brazil have been undefeated in football 5-a-side at the Paralympics since its debut at Athens 2004.

90. Several Para athletes are also healthcare workers and have been on the frontline fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. Dutch rowing champion and doctor Annika van der Meer, British table tennis Paralympian and junior doctor Kim Daybell and Venezuelan Para swimmer and doctor Genesis Leal are some who have been training and working overtime saving lives.

91. In athletics, the front wheel of each racer’s wheelchair must be in contact with the ground in front of the start line at the start of the race.

92. To help those with vision impairments recognise the different Tokyo 2020 Paralympic medals by touch, a series of circular indentations have been included on the side of the medals for the first time in Paralympic history. One indentation represents gold, two distinguishes silver and three identifies bronze. Braille letters also spell out “Tokyo 2020” on the medals’ face.

93. A record number of female athletes will compete at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. At least 40.5 per cent of all the athletes will be women, according to the IPC Qualification Criteria. This equates to 1,782 athletes, an increase on the 1,671 women who competed at Rio 2016 (38.6 per cent).

94. Rowing made its Paralympic debut at Beijing 2008, with the Italian mixed coxed four crew causing the first major upset. They had not reached the World Championship podium in the years leading up to the Games. However, the crew comprised of Paola Protopapa, Luca Agoletto, Daniele Signore, Graziana Saccocci and cox Alessandro Franzetti beat world champions Germany and runner-up Great Britain to take gold on Chinese soil.

95. In wheelchair races, athletes are considered to have finished the race when the centre of the racer’s front wheel reaches the finish line.

96. Celebrities Aretha Franklin, Carly Simon, Liza Minnelli, and Hall & Oates all performed at the Atlanta 1996 Paralympic Opening Ceremony.

97. Coldplay, Rihanna and Jay Z performed at the Closing Ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics.

98. Algeria made history at the 2016 Paralympics as the first African women’s wheelchair basketball team playing in the Games.

99. A total of 83 countries won at least one medal at Rio 2016, the most ever at a Paralympic Games.

100. China have been the country with most gold medals at each Paralympic Games since Athens 2004. They won 63 in the Greek capital city, followed by 89 at Beijing 2008, 95 at London 2012 and 107 at Rio 2016.

From Paralympic.org