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February 20 marked 200 days until the opening of the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio. For at least 100 years, athletes with some sort of disability have competed in these games. As early as 1888, sports teams in Berlin, Germany encouraged the participation of deaf athletes; but it was not until the Second World War that athletes in the “Paralympic” category came to be recognized officially as such throughout the world.
With the onset of World War II, in 1939, the British government instituted a special hospital ward under the supervision of Polish physician Ludwig Guttmann to treat spinal injuries suffered by soldiers in combat. Guttman had pioneered sports as a means of rehabilitating patients with disabilities by increasing both their physical endurance and self-esteem. In this way, rehabilitation through physical training evolved from recreational to competitive sports. For the 1948 Olympic Games in London, Dr. Guttman organized archery competitions and wheelchair basketball for 16 disabled athletes.
Paralympics now became established internationally, and by 1960, at the games in Rome, the first Paralympic Games were held not only for war veterans, but any qualified athlete with a disability. These first Paralympic Games opened with 400 athletes representing 23 countries, and occur every four years to the present day. From the 1988 Games in Seoul to the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville, the Paralympic Games take place alongside the Olympic Games, at the same venues and in the same cities.
Brazil participated in its first Paralympic Games in 1972, in Heidelberg, earning its first medal in Toronto in 1976, when the duo Robson Sampaio de Almeida and Luiz Carlos Costa took the silver medal in lawn bowling (no longer included among the Paralympic Games sports). Recent Paralympic Games have witnessed a stellar increase in the numbers and performance of Brazilian athletes. During the Sydney games in 2000, Brazil`s Paralympic athletes won 22 medals, placing it 24th among all of the countries that participated. In Athens, in the 2004 Paralympic Games, Brazil`s 33 medals put it in 14th place, before ranking 9th at the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing when Brazil took 33 medals. This trend continued in London, at the 2012 Paralympics, when Brazilian athletes won 21 gold medals of their 43 total, reaching 7th among the competing countries. The Brazilian team will go to the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio as one of the favorites, expected to finish among the top five.
The Rio 2016 Paralympic Games will be held from September 7 to 18, and bring together 4,350 athletes from 176 countries participating in 528 events. The athletes will compete for medals in 23 different sports. For further information about individual events and the games please visit the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games website.