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Spotlight On: Paralympics 101

It is officially the start of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, which can only mean one thing...

It’s a Paralympics takeover here at That’s So Chronic HQ!

Perhaps you - like me not so long ago - have always known that the Paralympic Games were an exciting sporting event that took place every four years, but you aren’t really too sure what goes into making the Paralympics work. Well, have no fear! I’m here to help.

This week a Spotlight On: Paralympics 101 episode went up over on That's So Chronic which explains the ins and outs of the Paralympics, but I also wanted to bring you this written post as well.

Now it wouldn’t be a deep dive into the Paralympics without a bit of history, so let’s rewind to 1944…


We are in Great Britain, and Dr. Ludwig Guttmann has opened a spinal injuries centre at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital. Dr. Guttmann was finding sports to be an essential part of his patients’ rehabilitation and it was here that rehabilitation sport was evolving into recreational sport and, unsurprisingly, competitive sport. Because that’s what sport is all about, right? A friendly bit of competition!

We then fast forward four years to 29 July 1948. On the day of the Opening Ceremony at the London 1948 Olympic Games, Dr. Guttmann organised the first competition for wheelchair athletes. The athletes took part in archery and there were 16 injured servicemen and women involved. Dr. Guttmann aptly named this competition the Stoke Mandeville Games.

Fast-forwarding another four years, and word had gotten out. In 1952 athletes from the Netherlands also joined the movement and the International Stoke Mandeville Games were founded.

It took eight years after that, but in 1960 in Rome, Italy, the International Stoke Mandeville Games officially became the Paralympic Games. During this event, 400 Para athletes competed from a whopping 23 countries!

From then onwards the Paralympic Games were held every four years.

Side note: In case you’re wondering, it was in 1976 when the first Paralympic Winter Games were held in Sweden!

We fast forward another eight years to the Rome 1960 Paralympic Games, and that’s when a Paralympics New Zealand team entered the competition. Our team consisted of 16 Para athletes (15 males and 1 female) and we competed in seven sports: Para archery, Para athletics, Para lawn bowls, Para fencing, Para powerlifting, Para table tennis, and Para swimming. We won four medals at these games (1 gold, 2 silvers, and 1 bronze) remarkably all by the same Para athlete. It was in Para athletics and Para swimming, and was none other than Eve Rimmer. Our 1 female Para athlete! I love this.

ack and white team photo of the first NZ Paralympic Team
Image: Paralympics NZ |

black and white photo of NZ Paralympic Team entering behind a hand held sign that says New Zealand during the opening ceremony
Image: Paralympics NZ |

black and white photo of Eve Rimmer in her wheelchair with medals around her neck. She is smiling
Image: Wikipedia

Which then brings us up to now. Tuesday 24 August 2021. The opening day of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. This year the Paralympics welcomes 4,400 Para athletes from 160 countries! I wonder what Dr. Guttmann would say now!


One of the biggest misconceptions I have discovered during my research into people’s understandings of the Paralympics is what the word “Paralympic” even means.

The word “Paralympic” derives from the Greek preposition “para” which means beside or alongside, and the word “Olympic.” This shows that the Paralympics are the parallel Games to the Olympics, and illustrates how the two movements exist side-by-side.

So therefore the “para” in “Paralympics” does not mean paraplegic. In fact, it’s got nothing to do with this! This misconception can be detrimental to what the Paralympic Games are all about.

Shireen Sapiro - a former South African Paralympian, gold medalist, and journalist - explains this wonderfully over in an Instagram post, which I’ll link below if you want to have a read:

Speaking of parallel, an agreement between the International Paralympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee was made in 1988 during the Summer Games in Korea, and the Winter Games in France in 1992, that the Paralympic and Olympic Games would always take part in the same city. It makes sense and enhances the message of both movements operating alongside one another.


Here’s a list of the sports at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics:

(The sports in bold are sports we have New Zealanders competing in!)

Para Archery

Dr. Guttmann would be pleased to see this is still here!

Para Athletics

Para Badminton

one of the two new additions for Tokyo 2020!


this is a sport I wasn’t super familiar with. It has origins in ancient Greece where players would throw large stones at a small target. I also discovered that Boccia is one of only two sports that does not have an Olympic counterpart.

Para Canoe

Para Cycling (road and track)


Football 5-a-side


easily one of the sports I am the most excited about watching this year! Goalball is played by athletes with visual impairments using a ball with bells inside. I hope that we get to see some of the Goalball events with the coverage here in New Zealand!


Para Powerlifting

Para Rowing

Shooting Para Sport

Sitting Volleyball

Para Swimming

Para Table Tennis

Para Taekwondo

this is also new for Tokyo 2020!

Para Triathlon

Wheelchair Basketball

Wheelchair Fencing

Wheelchair Rugby

Go the Wheel Blacks!

Wheelchair Tennis

If you're interested in learning more about these sports I recommend checking out this page, where you can learn about the rules and there are some cool explainer videos too!


Black background with white and gold text: One Team One Spirit
Image: Paralympics NZ |

This year we have 29 Para athletes representing New Zealand in Tokyo over six different sports. They are swimming, wheelchair rugby, athletics, cycling, canoe, and shooting. A full list of athletes can be found here or on the NZ Team app powered by ANZ.

New Zealand won 21 medals back in Rio 2016, so we will wait and see with bated breath how we get on this year!