Paralympic Winter Games
04 - 13 March

Down memory lane: The beginning — 1976 and 1980 Winter Games

The first official World ski competition for disabled athletes, featuring downhill and cross-country skiing, was held in 1974 23 Feb 2022
File photo of the Opening ceremony of the 1976 Paralympic Winter Games
File photo of the Opening ceremony of the 1976 Paralympic Winter Games

World War II changed the world in many ways. For recovery and rehabilitation of those injured in the war, sports inadvertently became a prime medium.

And over time, the Paralympic Games was born and the first Summer Games was held in 1960 in Rome.

The success of the Paralympic Games soon opened up opportunities for those with disabilities and with interests in winter sports. Competitions in snow sports for disabled athletes soon picked up pace and interest started to build.

Austrian double-amputee skier Sepp Zwicknagl was an early pioneer, whose experiments in skiing using prosthetics helped popularise winter sports among disabled athletes and thus laid the corner stone for Winter Paralympic Games.

Cross-country skiing competitions for the disabled began in 1970 and the first official World ski competition for disabled athletes, featuring downhill and cross-country skiing, was held in 1974.


The first Winter Paralympics were held at Örnsköldsvik, Sweden from 21 - 28 February 1976. It was  small but a telling beginning as 198 participants from 16 countries gathered in the Swedish town to participate in 53 events in two sports - Alpine and Nordic skiing for amputees and visually-impaired athletes while ice sledge racing was included as a demonstration event.

It was the first time athletes with disabilities, other than wheelchair athletes were permitted to compete.

West Germany topped the medal table with 28 medals, including 10 gold medals while Switzerland finished second with a total of 12 medals including 10 gold. Finland bagged eight gold medals and a total of 22 medals and though Austria grabbed the most medals - 35, it could manage to win only five gold.

Though the majority of participating National Paralympic Committees were from Europe, Japan, Uganda, the United States, and Canada were participants from the other Continents.

Eva Lemezova of Czechoslovakia and Petra Merkott of West Germany, both of whom claimed three gold medals each, were the most successful athletes of the 1976 Winter Paralympic Games. Among the men, Morten Langeroed bagged three gold (Men's Short Distance 10 km B, Men's Middle Distance 15 km B, and Men's 3x10 km Relay A-B) while Bertil Lundmark won two gold and a silver medal (Men's Short Distance 5 km II, Men's Middle Distance 10 km II.

The first Winter Paralympic Games was a smash hit and opened up more opportunities for Para athletes.

File photo of the Opening Ceremony of the 1980 Paralympic Winter Games held at Gello.


Four years later, Para athletes gathered in Geilo, Norway, for the second edition of Paralympic Winter Games, which were held from 1-7 February 1980.

The Games attracted 299 Para athletes - 229 men and 70 women from 18 countries. Ice Speed Skating became the third sport introduced in 1980 Geilo and competitions were held for medals in 63 disciplines across three other sports —  Para Alpine Skiing, Para Cross-Country Skiing, and Wheelchair Curling.

Ice Sledge Racing was introduced as a new sport, putting three events on the programme in Geilo. Women competed in distances of 100m, 500m and 800m, while men competed in 100m, 500m and 1,500m. Additionally, a demonstration event in Sledge Downhill Racing was held at these Games.

Host nation Norway topped the medals table and in all, 10 countries won medals. Norway finished with 54 medals, 23 gold, 21 silver, and 10 bronze, and Finland (35 - 16-7-12), Austria (22 - 8-10-6) and Sweden (16 - 4-3-8) finished second, third and fourth, respectively.

Sledge racer Mjassund Oejen of Great Britain won all three competitions in her classification and was the star of the Games.

Cato Zahl Pedersen in action.

Cato Zahl Pedersen of Norway also bagged three gold medals - in Men's Slalom 3B in skiing, Men's Middle Distance 10 km 3B, and Men's Giant Slalom 3B.

The 1980 Games proved that the Winter Paralympic Games were finding its feet and its success was evident in the increased number of participants.