The Paralympics are coming home

As the Beijing Games end, the flag heads for Britain – where the Paralympic idea was born

Four years after the international Olympiad returned to its Athens birthplace, London accepted the Paralympic baton yesterday – restoring the Games to their rightful home.

The focus of the handover celebrations was not, in fact, the British capital, but a market town in the heart of Buckinghamshire, 33 miles north-west of London. Under muggy, autumnal skies, Paralympic champions of the past, present and – hopefully – future amassed at Stoke Mandeville hospital, near Aylesbury, to watch the televised acceptance of the Paralympic flag, 5,000 miles away in Beijing, by the London Mayor, Boris Johnson.

They gathered to honour the extraordinary founding of the Paralympics 60 years ago at Stoke Mandeville.

There, a brilliant young neurosurgeon from Germany, Professor Sir Ludwig Guttmann, decided that the most effective way to improve the mental and physical condition of his disabled patients – war veterans who had sustained horrific injuries, particularly to the spinal cord – was to get them playing sports.

"If I ever did one good thing in my medical career," Sir Ludwig wrote in the Reader's Digest in 1967, "it was to introduce sport into the treatment and rehabilitation of disabled people." He had done so on 29 July 1948, when 16 paralysed men and women at the hospital took part in competitions designed to coincide with the opening of the "austerity" Olympics in London. Watched by crowds numbering a few dozen, the contests took place on the hospital lawn.

It became an annual event and in 1952 the Netherlands sent a team, making the Stoke Mandeville Games international. A new movement was born, although it was only in 1960, when the Olympics were transferred to Rome, that they were officially christened the Paralympic Games and held in the same city.

Those present for the official festivities at Aylesbury conceded that Britain's exceptional Paralympic performance over the past fortnight would have been inconceivable without Stoke Mandeville Spinal Injuries Centre, which is still the focal point of British Paralympics. With 102 medals in total – 42 gold, 29 silver and 31 bronze – Team GB came second overall at the 2008 Games, behind only China.

But the loudest cheer at Stoke Mandeville yesterday was reserved for the sight, halfway across the world in Beijing, of Lord Nelson emerging from a Routemaster bus and swapping his eye patch and sword for sunglasses and an electric guitar.

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence