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Making a splash

BMJ 2004; 329 doi: (Published 01 July 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:0407302
  1. Tiago Villanueva, Clegg scholar1,
  2. Anne Green, chair2
  1. 1BMJ
  2. 2International Swimming Paralympic Committee, Australia

Tiago Villanueva and Anne Green look in detail at paralympic swimming

When Leila Marques, a final year medical student at the University of Lisbon, had her forearm amputated because of a congenital abnormality when she was three years old she began to swim. Initially, it was part of her rehabilitation process, but it later took on a new level.

Having won many international swimming competitions over the past few years, Leila is a world class athlete. This summer she will be one of 4000 athletes from 130 countries heading to Greece between 17 and 28 September to participate in the Paralympic Games.

In the beginning

The Paralympic movement began in 1948, when Ludwig Guttmann, a neurologist working in Stoke Mandeville Hospital in the United Kingdom, realised the potential of sport in the rehabilitation process of veterans of the second world war with injuries of the spinal cord. He introduced the Stoke Mandeville Games for war veterans and made his competition coincide with the Olympic Games held that year in London.

Competitors from other countries with different disabilities were later invited to participate and the Paralympic games took on its Olympic-style format. Except for in 1984, the games have been held in the same year as the Olympics and since the Seoul Summer Games (1988) and the Albertville Winter Games (2001), in the same venue. All the athletes now live in the same village and use the same facilities, catering services, and medical services. But it was not until the Sydney 2000 Olympics, that the organising committee was responsible for both events.

Few Paralympic athletes are able to commit full time to sport. State financial support that they get is much less than Olympic athletes and depends on the country. This means athletes have to support themselves by other means.

Leila, like most athletes, …

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