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10 Things You Didn't Know About the Paralympics

Editor’s Note: U.S. Paralympics is a division of the United States Olympic Committee.

Did you know that the Paralympic Games are the second largest sporting event in the world, behind the Olympic Games? At the London 2012 Paralympic Games more than 4,200 athletes competed, including 227 Americans, making it the largest Paralympic Games ever! Meet some of the Paralympians who came to the White House, and take a look at our favorite facts about the Paralympic Games:

Watch Team USA Paralympians at the White House

Did You Know?

  1. The word “Paralympic” derives from the Greek preposition “para”, meaning beside or alongside, and the word “Olympic”, showing that the Paralympic Games are parallel to the Olympic Games and the two movements exist side-by-side. Since 1988, the Olympic and Paralympic Games have been hosted in the same cities and venues, separated by a two week span.
  2. The London 2012 Paralympic Games included 20 sports: archery, boccia, cycling, equestrian, goalball, judo, powerlifting, rowing, sailing, shooting, sitting volleyball, soccer (five-a-side and seven-a-side), swimming, table tennis, track and field, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby, wheelchair fencing, and wheelchair tennis.
  3. Twenty members of the 2012 U.S. Paralympic Team are U.S. military veterans or active duty service members, including Navy Lieutenant Bradley Snyder, who lost his vision in September 2011 while serving in Afghanistan. Snyder won a gold medal in swimming on the one year anniversary of his injury. 
    Watch Bradley Snyder’s story here:
  4. On July 29, 1948, the day of the Opening Ceremony of the London 1948 Olympic Games, Dr. Ludwig Guttmann organized the first competition for wheelchair athletes, which he named the Stoke Mandeville Games. The Stoke Mandeville Games led to the Paralympic Games, which were first held in Rome, Italy, in 1960 and featured 400 athletes from 23 countries.
  5. “Spirit in Motion” is the motto for the Paralympic Movement. The symbol for the Paralympics Games contains three colors—red, blue, and green—which are the colors most widely represented in the flags of nations. The colors are each in the shape of an Agito, which is Latin for "I move", and the three Agitos circle a central point, which is a symbol for the athletes congregating from all points of the globe.
  6. In the Paralympic Games, athletes compete against other athletes with the same abilities. The International Paralympic Committee--the global governing body for Paralympic sport--organizes athletes in to six different categories: amputee, cerebral palsy, intellectual disability, wheelchair, visually impaired and “les autres," which means “the others” in French. Within the disability categories, athletes are further classified according to what they can do, which allows for more fair competition among participants.
  7. When visually impaired athletes compete in sports like alpine skiing, cycling and track and field,  they can have an able-bodied guide. An essential part of the competition, visually impaired athletes and guides are considered a team, and both are medal candidates.
  8. The most decorated Paralympian in history is Trischa Zorn, a blind swimmer from the United States. In a career that spanned from the 1980 Paralympic Games to 2004, she won 55 medals, including 41 gold.
  9. Tatyana McFadden, a wheelchair racer who won three events in London, was joined on the 2012 U.S. Paralympic Track and Field Team by her 16-year-old sister Hannah. It was the first time sisters have raced against each other for Team USA.
  10. On the opening day of competition at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, Andy Soule, who was injured in Afghanistan while serving with the U.S. Army, won the bronze medal in men's 2.4 km sitting pursuit, becoming the first American biathlete to medal in either the Olympic or the Paralympic Winter Games.

Many successful paralympians got their start in a Paralympic Sport Club—including four-time London 2012 Paralympic Games gold medalist Ray Martin, a wheelchair racer. Paralympic Sport Clubs are community-based programs developed locally to involve youth and adults with physical and visual disabilities in sports and physical activity, regardless of skill level. The Paralympic Sport Club program now has 181 active clubs in 46 states. Find opportunities near you at, and become active in Paralympic sport!

To learn more: