On this day, 60 years ago, the cauldron was lit in Rome, Italy, to mark the first Paralympic Games in history.
While the Stoke Mandeville Games were held in 1948, it was the Paralympics in Rome where the first major international competition for people with a disability were put together and assembled to be equivalent to the Olympics in the same city. Rome 1960 marked as a watershed moment for Para sport and the Paralympic Movement.
As world looks to Tokyo 2020 next year which would mark the 28th Games, let’s walk down the six decades in the making.
Founder of the Movement Sir Ludwig Guttmann and Director of the Spinal Centre in Rome Antonia Maglio started preparations two years prior in 1958 to stage what was called the 9th Annual International Stoke Mandeville Games (the term “Paralympic Games” was only approved by the International Olympic Committee later in 1984). Now regarded as the Rome 1960 Paralympics, the event took place from 18-25 September supported by the Italian Institute for Disabled Workers (INAIL) and the Italian Olympic Committee, six days after the Closing Ceremony of the XVII Olympic Summer Games.
The Opening Ceremony on 18 September saw a crowd of 5,000 spectators greeting the colourful entry of the wheelchair athletes at the Acqua Acetosa stadium. Camillo Giardina, the Italian Minister for Public Health at the time, had declared the Games open to the world. It saw 400 athletes from 23 countries, with the largest delegation coming from the host country.
The competitive programme included eight sport events considered beneficial and suitable for athletes with spinal cord injuries: basketball (men’s), fencing (foil or sabre), javelin and precision javelin, Indian club throwing (throwing a baton), shot put, snooker and swimming (freestyle, breaststroke and backstroke). Other events which took place included table tennis (singles and doubles), archery, dart archery and the pentathlon (archery, swimming, javelin, shot put and club throwing).
The Closing Ceremony on 25 September was held in the Palazetto dello Sport in the Olympic Village in the presence of Sir Guttmann and the Patron of the Games and wife of the Italian President Donna Carla Gronchi. Medals were presented in 57 different events, with Italy finishing on top, followed closely by Great Britain and USA.
At the time, Sir Guttmann summed up the Games saying, "the vast majority of competitors and escorts have fully understood the meaning of the Rome Games as a new pattern of re-integration of the paralysed into society, as well as the world of sport."
The Paralympic Games have come a long way since 60 years ago.
The first Paralympics were held in Latin America at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2016. The event saw 4,328 Para athletes (2,657 men and 1,671 women) from 159 countries took part and over 12 days of sporting action 220 world and 432 Paralympic records were broken. An Independent Paralympic Athletes team took part for the first time featuring two refugee athletes. Six National Paralympic Committees (NPCs) made their Games debut, while canoe and triathlon made their Paralympic debuts.
PyeongChang 2018 became the 12th winter edition. It witnessed a record 567 athletes from 49 delegations – more than any previous edition - compete in 80 medal events across six sports.
In 2026, the Paralympics will return to Italy at Milan-Cortina.