Winter Paralympic Games

For the most recent Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, see 2014 Winter Paralympics.

The Winter Paralympic Games is an international multi-sport event where athletes with physical disabilities compete. This includes athletes with mobility disabilities, amputations, blindness, and cerebral palsy. The Winter Paralympic Games are held every four years directly following the Winter Olympic Games. The Winter Paralympics are also hosted by the city that hosted the Winter Olympics. The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) oversees the Winter Paralympics. Medals are awarded in each event: with gold medals for first place, silver for second and bronze for third, following the tradition that the Olympic Games started in 1904.

The Winter Paralympics began in 1976 in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden. Those Games were the first Paralympics (Summer or Winter) that featured athletes other than wheelchair athletes. The Games have expanded and grown to be (along with the Summer Games) part of the largest international sporting event after the Olympic Games. Given their expansion the need for a very specific classification system has arisen. This system has also given rise to controversy and opened the door for cheating. Winter Paralympians have also been convicted of steroid use and other forms of cheating unique to Paralympic athletes, which has tainted the integrity of the Games.


The origins of the Winter Paralympics are similar to the Summer Paralympics. Injured soldiers returning from World War II sought sports as an avenue to healing.[1] Organized by Dr. Ludwig Guttmann, sports competitions between British convalescent hospitals began in 1948 and continued until 1960 when a parallel Olympics was held in Rome after the 1960 Summer Olympics. Over 400 wheelchair athletes competed at the 1960 Paralympic Games, which became known as the first Paralympics.[1]

Sepp Zwicknagl, a pioneer of snow sports for disabled athletes, was a double-leg amputee Austrian skier who experimented skiing using prosthetics. His work helped pioneer technological advances for people with disabilities who wished to participate in winter sports.[2] Advances were slow and it was not until 1974 that the first official world ski competition for physically impaired athletes, featuring downhill and a cross-country skiing, was held.[2] The first Winter Paralympics were held in 1976 at Örnsköldsvik, Sweden from February 21–28. Alpine and Nordic skiing for amputees and visually impaired athletes where the main events but ice sledge racing was included as a demonstration event.[2] There were 198 participating athletes from 16 countries,[3] and it was the first time athletes with impairments other than wheelchair athletes were permitted to compete.[4]

Starting in 1988 the Summer Paralympics were held in the same host city as the Summer Olympic Games. This was due to an agreement reached between the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC). The 1992 Winter Paralympics were the first Winter Games to use the same facilities as the Winter Olympics.[4]


Athletes have cheated by over-representing impairment to have a competitive advantage, and the use of performance-enhancing drugs.[5][6] German skier Thomas Oelsner became the first Winter Paralympian to test positive for steroids in 2002. He had won two gold medals in the alpine events but was stripped of his medals.[7] One concern now facing Paralympic officials is the technique of boosting blood pressure, known as autonomic dysreflexia. The increase in blood pressure can improve performance by 15% and is most effective in the endurance sports such as cross-country skiing. To increase blood pressure athletes will deliberately cause trauma to limbs below a spinal injury. This trauma can include breaking bones, strapping extremities in too tightly and using high-pressured compression stockings. The injury is painless to the athlete but affects the body and impacts the athlete's blood pressure, as can techniques like allowing the bladder to overfill.[8]

Disability categories

The IPC has established six disability categories applying to both the Summer and Winter Paralympics. Athletes with one of these physical disabilities are able to compete in the Paralympics though not every sport can allow for every disability category.[9]


Paralympian Andy Soule in the 12.5 km cross-country race at the 2010 Winter Olympics

Within the six disability categories the athletes still need to be divided according to their level of impairment. The classification systems differ from sport to sport. The systems are designed to open up Paralympic sports to as many athletes as possible, who can participate in fair competitions against athletes with similar levels of ability. The closest equivalents in able-bodied competitions are age classifications in junior sports, and weight divisions in wrestling, boxing, and weightlifting. Classifications vary in accordance with the different skills required to perform the sport. The biggest challenge in the classification system is how to account for the wide variety and severity of disabilities. As a result, there will always be a range of impairment within a classification.[10] What follows is a list of the Winter Paralympic sports and a general description of how they are classified.

Alpine skiing: There are two events in alpine skiing: slalom and giant slalom. Alpine skiing accommodates athletes with the following physical limitations: spinal injury, Cerebral Palsy, amputation, Les Autres and blindness/visual impairment. There are eleven classifications, seven for standing athletes, three for sitting athletes, and three for visually impaired athletes. The divisions are defined by the degree of the athletes' function and the need for assistive equipment (prosthesis, ski poles, etc.).[11] Snowboard Cross is technically now included in this category, though competition will take place with only limited classifications (see below).

Biathlon: Biathlon is a combination of cross-country skiing with target shooting. It requires physical stamina and accurate shooting. The events are open to athletes with physical disabilities and visual impairments. There are fifteen classes in which athletes will be placed depending on their level of function. Twelve divisions are for athletes with a physical impairment and three divisions are for athletes with a visual impairment. The athletes compete together and their finishing times are entered into a formula with their disability class to determine the athletes' over all finish order. Visually impaired athletes are able to compete through the use of acoustic signals. The signal intensity varies depending upon whether or not the athlete is on target.[12]

Cross-country skiing: Cross-country skiing, also known as Nordic skiing is open to athletes with Cerebral Palsy, amputations, the need for a wheelchair, visual impairment and intellectual impairment. There are fifteen classifications, three for visually impaired athletes, nine for standing athletes and three for seated athletes. The divisions are determined in a similar fashion to alpine skiing with attention given to the athletes' level of function and need for assistive devices.[13]

Ice sledge hockey game at the 2010 Winter Paralympics

Ice Sledge Hockey: Ice sledge hockey is open only to male competitors with a physical disability in the lower part of their body. The game is played using international hockey rules with some modifications. Athletes sit on sledges with two blades that allow the puck to go beneath the sledge. They also use two sticks, which have a spike-end for pushing and a blade-end for shooting. The athletes are classified into three groups: group 1 is for athletes with no sitting balance or with major impairment in both upper and lower limbs, group 2 is for athletes with some sitting balance and moderate impairment in their extremities and athletes in group 3 have good balance and mild impairment in their upper and lower limbs.[14]

Wheelchair curling: Wheelchair curling is a coed team event for athletes with permanent lower limb disabilities that require them to use a wheelchair in their daily lives. Athletes with Cerebral Palsy or Multiple Sclerosis can also play if they use a wheelchair. Delivery of the stone can be by hand release or the use of a pole. There are no classifications in this event except the requirement that all athletes participating must have need for a wheelchair for daily mobility.[15]

Para-snowboarding: On 2 May 2012, the International Paralympic Committee officially sanctioned "para-snowboarding" (commonly known as adaptive snowboarding) as a medal event in the 2014 Winter Paralympic Games under Alpine Skiing. There will be men's and women's standing snowboard-cross competitions.[16] The IPC currently recognizes two broader sport classes, one for competitors with lower-limb impairments and one for those with upper-limb impairments. Visually impaired classes are not currently recognized and the sport's debut in the 2014 Sochi Paralympics will feature events for only athletes with lower-limb impairments, who will be permitted to wear a prosthesis. The events will be run in a time trial format (one rider on course at a time), and results within each broad class calculated without factors that adjust raw times based on disability classification (for example, a hypothetical athlete with a single above-knee amputation will not receive any adjustment to his or her start-to-finish time, even though the lack of a knee and functional quadriceps in one leg can result in an impairment much greater than a hypothetical athlete with a single below-knee amputation but two functional quadriceps). However, as the sport develops, the classes will be expanded and/or refined in the future.[17]

List of Paralympic sports

Main article: Paralympic sports

A number of different sports have been part of the Paralympic program at one point or another.

  This color indicates a discontinued sport

Sport Years
Alpine skiing all
Ice sledge hockey since 1994
Ice sledge racing 1980–1988, 1994–1998
Nordic skiing - biathlon since 1988
Nordic cross-country skiing all
Para-snowboarding since 2014
Wheelchair curling since 2006

All-time medal table

With reference to the top ten nations and according to official data of the International Paralympic Committee.

No. Nation Games Gold Silver Bronze Total
1  Norway (NOR) 11 135 103 81 319
2  Germany (GER)[18] 11 130 113 102 345
3  Austria (AUT) 11 104 113 108 325
4  United States (USA) 11 97 104 76 277
5  Russia (RUS) 6 84 88 61 233
6  Finland (FIN) 11 76 48 59 182
7  France (FRA) 11 52 47 52 152
8  Switzerland (SUI) 11 50 55 48 153
9  Canada (CAN) 11 43 43 49 135
10  Sweden (SWE) 11 26 32 41 99
11  Ukraine (UKR) 5 20 34 36 90
12  Japan (JPN) 11 20 28 32 80

List of Winter Paralympic Games

Host cities of Winter Paralympic Games
Games Year Host Opened by Dates Nations Competitors Sports Events Top Nation
Total Men Women
I 1976 Sweden Örnsköldsvik, Sweden King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden 21 – 28 February 16 53 2 53  West Germany (FRG)
II 1980 Norway Geilo, Norway Olav V of Norway 1–7 February 18 299 2 63  Norway (NOR)
III 1984 Austria Innsbruck, Austria Rudolf Kirchschläger 14–20 January 21 419 3 107  Austria (AUT)
IV 1988 Austria Innsbruck, Austria Kurt Waldheim 18–25 January 22 377 4 97  Norway (NOR)
V 1992 France Tignes - Albertville, France François Mitterrand 25 March- 1 April 24 365 288 77 3 78  United States (USA)
VI 1994 Norway Lillehammer, Norway Queen Sonja 10–19 March 31 471 5 133  Norway (NOR)
VII 1998 Japan Nagano, Japan Crown Prince Naruhito 5–14 March 32 571 5 122  Norway (NOR)
VIII 2002 United States Salt Lake City, United States George W Bush 7–16 March 36 416 4 92  Germany (GER)
IX 2006 Italy Torino, Italy Carlo Azeglio Ciampi 10–19 March 39 486 5 58  Russia (RUS)
X 2010 Canada Vancouver - Whistler, Canada Michaëlle Jean 12–21 March 44 506 5 64  Germany (GER)
XI 2014 Russia Sochi, Russian Federation Vladimir Putin 7–16 March 45 550 6 72  Russia (RUS)
XII 2018 South Korea PyeongChang, South Korea 9–18 March 6 80
XIII 2022 China Beijing, People's Republic of China 4–13 March


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  2. 1 2 3 "Örnsköldsvik 1976". International Paralympic Committee. Retrieved 2010-04-14.
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  4. 1 2 "History of the Paralympic Games". The Government of Canada. Retrieved 2010-04-14.
  5. Slot, Owen (2001-02-03). "Cheating shame of Paralympics". The Daily Telegraph. London: Telegraph Media Group. Retrieved 2010-04-07.
  6. Grey-Thompson, Tanni (2008-09-11). "Cheating does happen in the Paralympics". The Daily Telegraph. London: Telegraph Media Group. Retrieved 2010-04-07.
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  8. "Paralympic athletes who harm themselves to perform better". BBC News Magazine. BBC. 2012-08-22. Retrieved 2014-02-12.
  9. 1 2 "Making sense of the categories". BBC Sport. 2000-10-06. Retrieved 2010-04-07.
  10. "Athlete Classification". Australian Paralympic Committee. Retrieved 2010-06-01.
  11. "Alpine Skiing". Australian Paralympic Committee. Retrieved 2010-06-01.
  12. "Biathlon". Australian Paralympic Committee. Retrieved 2010-06-01.
  13. "Classification information sheet Nordic Skiing". Australian Paralympic Committee. Retrieved 2010-06-01.
  14. "Ice Sledge Hockey". Australian Paralympic Committee. Retrieved 2010-06-01.
  15. "Wheelchair curling". Australian Paralympic Committee. Retrieved 2010-06-01.
  16. "Para-Snowboard Included in Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games | IPC". 2012-05-28. Retrieved 2013-01-31.
  18. Prior to 1990 also called West Germany (FRG). Does not include the totals from East Germany (GDR).
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