The Most Successful Countries at Paralympic Games

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The 2021 Summer Paralympics just ended in Tokyo. In all, 163 nations sent 4,537 athletes to the games that highlight the athletic achievements of people with physical and intellectual disabilities.

The history of the Paralympics dates back to World War II. In 1944, British physician Dr. Ludwig Guttmann established a spinal cord injury rehabilitation center at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital in England. The center’s goal was to help injured ex-servicemen recover through sporting activities and competitions.

In July 1948, Dr. Guttmann led a team of 16 injured servicemen and women in an archery competition at the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympics. He called it the Stoke Mandeville Games. In 1952, a team of Dutch ex-former servicemen competed with the British athletes and the International Stoke Mandeville Games was launched. From there, the games evolved into what we know today as the Paralympics. 

Rome was the sight of the first Summer Paralympics Games in 1960. A total of 400 athletes from 23 countries competed that first year. In 1976, the first Winter Paralympics was held in Sweden. Starting with the Seoul Summer Olympics in 1988 and the Winter Olympics in 1992 in Albertville in France the Olympics and Paralympics are held at the same site. Where have the Olympics held been in the past? See the locations of the last 31 Summer Olympics games.

Athletes are classified under six categories: amputee, cerebral palsy, visual impairment, spinal cord injuries, intellectual disability, and “les autres” (athletes that don’t fit into those categories, but another like dwarfism). Within those groups, athletes are further classified by the severity of their disabilities.

In total, Paralympic athletes compete in 28 categories: 22 in the summer and six in the winter. This year, badminton and taekwondo were new to the summer games. 

Unfortunately, the games aren’t without controversy. In 2000, the Spanish basketball team was disqualified because a member revealed the team hadn’t undergone medical tests to establish the members’ disability. The team lost its gold medals. See how many Olympians are from your state.

To determine the all-time best countries at the Paralympic Games, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the all-time country medal standings for both the Summer Games and Winter Games using data from the International Paralympic Committee.