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Beijing Paralympics fact sheet

April 14, 2008 12:00 AM

China expects to welcome 4,000 athletes and more than 6,000 journalists, coaches and officials to the 2008 Beijing Paralympics. The opening ceremony of the Games takes place on 6 September while the events themselves run from 7-17 September.

Events will take place in 20 venues, of which 11 are brand new, four have been converted for the Games and five are temporary. Beijing, home to one million disabled citizens, according to organisers, has undergone a three-year programme to improve accessibility at stations, hotels, hospitals and shops.

Great Britain has traditionally been among the top nations at the Paralympic Games and brought a team of 169 athletes to Athens four years ago. GB finished second in the medals table behind China, with a tally of 35 gold medals, 30 silver and 29 bronze.

Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, who retired from competition in 2007, is Britain's most successful Paralympian with 16 medals, including 11 golds.

PARALYMPIC SPORTS

Athletes will compete in 20 sports in Beijing, with rowing introduced to the schedule for the first time.

Archery, Athletics, Boccia, Cycling,

Equestrian, Football (5-a-side and 7-a-side), Goalball,

Power-lifting, Powerlifting, Rowing, Sailing, Shooting,

Swimming, Table Tennis, Volleyball (sitting),

Wheelchair Basketball, Wheelchair Fencing, Wheelchair Rugby, Wheelchair Tennis

Paralympic athletes are grouped in sports and events according to their functional ability, rather than their disability. For example, amputees are not limited to competing against other amputees. Instead their ability is evaluated by an international panel alongside all other Paralympians during the days prior to the Games. The athletes then compete in groups decided by the classifiers - with the exception of the visually impaired, who compete in separate groups.

Athletes eligible to compete at Beijing belong to five different disability groups: amputee, cerebral palsy, visual impairment, spinal cord injuries, and a group for those who do not fit into the first four, dubbed "les autres" (French for "the others").

Deaf athletes do not compete in the Paralympics. For reasons of culture and ability, deaf people have a separate competition - the Deaflympics. The next Deaflympics event will be held in Taiwan in 2009.

HISTORY OF THE PARALYMPICS

The forerunner of what would become the Paralympic Games was launched in 1948.

Dr Ludwig Guttmann, a neurologist at a hospital in Stoke Mandeville, Buckinghamshire, believed sport was vital to the recovery of war veterans with spinal cord injuries after World War Two. He set up a competition to coincide with the London Olympics. The first official Paralympics took place at the 1960 Rome Games

Four hundred athletes and staff attended from 23 countries, but only in wheelchair sports. In 1976, the first Paralympic Winter Games took place in Sweden.

The Paralympics are now always held in the same venues as the Olympics, though this has only been the case since the 1988 Seoul Games. Cities bidding for the Games now view both the Olympics and Paralympics as a single package.

CONTROVERSY AT THE GAMES

While Paralympic organisers share the Olympic movement's fight against drugs in sport, they also face additional problems - like "boosting". Boosting is the practice of attempting to raise your blood pressure to stimulate your body beyond its normal state.

Paralysed athletes can use techniques such as sitting on ball bearings or pins, or tying piano wire around the scrotum, in the knowledge they will feel no pain as the nervous system reacts and drives their blood pressure up. These techniques, and boosting in general, are as illegal as doping. The subjective decision as to what is or is not a disability has also led to problems.

Though the classification system now attempts to prevent athletes gaining an unfair advantage over their rivals, instances of cheating have emerged in the past.

In 2000 the Spanish basketball team, competing in a class for athletes with intellectual disabilities, was found to include athletes with no disability. Athletes with intellectual disabilities were subsequently suspended indefinitely by the International Paralympic Committee, which says it will look again at the ban following the Beijing Paralympics.