The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) today celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the Opening Ceremony for the Rome 1960 Paralympic Games.
Being the first time that the Paralympic Games were put together and assembled to be equivalent to the Olympics in the same city, the event marked a tremendous step in sport for athletes with a disability. Today, the IPC is proud to look back 50 years ago and remember the strong milestone that the Rome 1960 Games were, and the people who made it all possible.
Founder of the Paralympic 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 was the largest international Games to date with 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: Snooker, Fencing (foil or sabre), Javelin and Precision Javelin, Shot Put, Indian Club Throwing (throwing a baton), Men’s Basketball 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 paralyzed into society, as well as the world of sport."
The Paralympics have come a long way since the Rome 1960 Games.
One of the 13 Australian athletes to compete in 1960 for example was Kevin Coombs, who said that the Rome Paralympics were very different to the Games of today.
“Only athletes in wheelchairs were allowed to compete in Rome yet the athlete village wasn’t built for people in wheelchairs,” Coombs said. “There were stairs in every building and the Italian army had to carry the athletes up and down.”
A pioneer of Paralympic Sport in Australia, Coombs became a paraplegic at 12, before competing for Australia at five Paralympic Games in the sport of Wheelchair Basketball. He was later inducted to the Australian Basketball Hall of Fame and has an avenue named after him at Sydney Olympic Park.
At the Rome Paralympics, Australian athletes also self-fundraised, self-coached and were expected to compete in multiple sports to prove their worth on the team. And after winning three gold, six silver and one bronze, the Australian team finished seventh on the medal tally.
The development of the Games over the past 50 years has given more athletes the chance to compete, using their skills and performances to reach the medal podium.
Recently, at the spectacular Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games, a total of 3,951 athletes (1,383 women) from 146 different countries competed in Paralympic Sport. The Beijing Games broke many records on and off the field of play, and the upcoming London 2012 Paralympic Games are certain to excite the world even more.
Said IPC President Sir Philip Craven: “It was in Rome in 1960 that the Paralympic Games really kicked off and it is great thanks to the people of Rome and the people of Italy that these inaugural Games successfully took place. Look what progress has been made since then.
“We at the IPC all look forward to the Games to come in London 2012, Sochi 2014 and Rio 2016. Thank you Rome.”