I thought I’d post a few blog entries about the London 2012 Paralympic Games. This is the first one, and I’m going to tell you a little bit about the origins of Para Sports, as well as show you a few family photographs of para-sports in 1949:
People with disabilities have always taken part in sports. Here is a picture of my Dad, Charlie Bradford, taken at a motor tricycle rally organised by the Invalid Tricycle Association in Finsbury Park, London in about 1949. I can’t tell you any more about the event; I was only one year old at the time!
I’ll tell you more about the ITA and its sports rallies later on in the blog, but first let’s talk about the Paralympic movement and its founder, Sir Ludwig Guttmann.
Sir Ludwig Guttmann and the Stoke MandevilleGames
Guttmann was born in Tost, Upper Silesia, Germany (now Toszek, Poland) and graduated in medicine at the University of Breslau in 1924. As a student, he developed a deep interest in the treatment of spinal cord injuries. He came to Great Britain as a refugee in 1939 and continued his research at Oxford. In 1944, he founded the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire. Most of his patients were ex-servicemen who had been injured in the war.
Guttmann believed that sport was a method of therapy, using it to help build physical strength and self-respect. He organised the first Stoke Mandeville Games tournament in 1948, and by 1952, this annual event was attracting over 130 international competitors. It continued to grow, impressing Olympics officials and the international community. In 1956 he was awarded the Fearnley Cup, an award for outstanding contribution to theOlympic ideal.
His vision of an international games the equivalent of the Olympics came to fruition in 1960 when the International Stoke Mandeville Games were held in Rome alongside the official IOC 1960 Summer Olympics. Known at the time as the 9th Annual International Stoke Mandeville Games, the Rome games are now recognised as the first Paralympic Games.
In Seoul in 1988 the Paralympic Summer Games were held directly after the Olympic Summer Games, in the same host city, and using the same facilities. This set a precedent that has been followed ever since.
The Paralympic movement originated in Great Britain, and GB has always aimed high and achieved high. Since 1960 GB has been awarded 493 gold medals in the summer games, more than any other country outside the United States, which has been awarded 666 summer golds.
Trischa Zorn of the United States is the most decorated Paralympian in history. She competed in the blind swimming events and won a total of 55 medals, 41 of which are gold. Her Paralympic career spanned 24 years from 1980 to 2004.
Great Britain’s most decorated paralympian isTanni Grey Thompson, who won a total of 16 medals, including 11 golds, held over 30 world records, and won the London Marathon six times between 1992 and2002.
Para-sports have always been with us –the Invalid Tricycle Association 1948-1960
If you’ve read "Live Eels and Grand Pianos" you’ll remember that in Chapter 12 I describe meetings of the Invalid Tricycle Association; which is now known as Disabled Motoring UK. Here are two more photos from that sports rally in 1949:
This picture shows me with my Mum and Dad, Charlie and Kathy, at the rally in 1949. I was about a year old. The rally was held in Finsbury Park, only a few miles from the Olympic Park. There was no shortage of spectators,even then.
This picture shows a hand-propelled tricycle race at the same rally. I’ve no idea who the athletes are.
The Invalid Tricycle Association was founded by O. A Denly (1924-2010), who was always known as Denny. In 1945 Denny became paralysed from the waist down by Polio while serving in the Royal Navy , and was issued with a petrol powered tricycle with a maximum speed of 30mph. In June 1947 he crossed the Swiss Alps on it, and in August the same year listeners to the BBCHome Service were enthralled by a broadcast about his extraordinary expedition.
So much interest was aroused by the radio broadcast that an article appeared in Motorcycle Magazine to float the idea of an association, and in January 1948 the Invalid Tricycle Association was formed. Initially the main activities revolved around rallies and excursions. Travel always formed a large part of the ITA, but the association also focused on mutual help and support for its members.
Denny wrote this about his trip across theAlps:
“When in the Royal Navy it was my ambition to spend my first Foreign Service leave in Switzerland, and although I had to leave the Navy due to Infantile Paralysis I decided that it would not stop my visiting Switzerland. So on the evening of the 27th June I left the Albert Dock Hospital in my Argson Invalid Tricycle powered by a 147cc two-stroke engine, with two forward speeds and a top speed of 30m.p.h.The vehicle weighs 250 lbs, with sprung front forks and frame, though there is no springing on the back axle. I cut the load as much as possible, but as I cannot walk at all I had to carry a small collapsible self-propelling wheelchair on the side, for use in buildings, my own bed in case there was no one to carry me upstairs and with food, baggage and myself the load was approximately260 lbs.”
You can read the fulltext of Denly’s journey here.
Athletes with disabilities who havecompeted in the Main Olympics
Plenty of paralympians have gone on to compete in the main games. In recent years theSouth African 400 metres runner Oscar Pistorious “the Blade Runner” and his compatriot, swimmer Natalie du Toit have attracted the most publicity.
But not many people know that Ray Ewry, from Indiana USA, a polio survivor, won eight gold medals at the 1908 Olympics. Ewry contracted polio in 1881 when he was eight. In 1889, he was a high school senior still using crutches. The following year, he was an engineering student at Purdue University who was setting records in the standing high jump and long jump, events that have fallen away from the world of track and field. His best standing long jump was 11 feet, 4 7/8 inches. Nick Winkelman, director of performance education at Athletes' Performance, trains America's top collegefootball players for the NFL. He says current players don't come close to Ewry.
I’ll blog more about the Paralympics after the opening ceremony, and after I’ve been to the stadium on 31 August to watch the following events in the evening:
Men's Long Jump Final- F42/44
Women's Discus Throw Final - F40
Women's 200m Round 1- T46
Men's 100m Round 1- T35