The Paralympics has grown from a small gathering of British World War II veterans in 1948 to become one of the largest international sporting events by the early 21st century. The Paralympics has grown from 400 athletes with a disability from 23 countries in 1960 to thousands of competitors from over 100 countries in the London 2012 Games. Paralympians strive for equal treatment with non-disabled Olympic athletes, but there is a large funding gap between Olympic and Paralympic athletes.
Given the wide variety of disabilities that Paralympic athletes have, there are several categories in which the athletes compete. The allowable disabilities are broken down into ten eligible impairment types. The categories are impaired muscle power, impaired passive range of movement, limb deficiency, leg length difference, short stature, hypertonia, ataxia, athetosis, vision impairment and intellectual impairment. These categories are further broken down into classifications, which vary from sport to sport.
Athletes with disabilities did compete in the Olympic Games prior to the advent of the Paralympics. The first athlete to do so was German American gymnast George Eyser in 1904, who had one artificial leg. HungarianKaroly Takacs competed in shooting events in both the 1948 and 1952 Summer Olympics. He was a right-arm amputee and could shoot left-handed. Another disabled athlete to appear in the Olympics prior to the Paralympic Games was Lis Hartel, a Danish equestrian athlete who had contracted polio in 1943 and won a silver medal in the dressage event.
The first organized athletic day for disabled athletes that coincided with the Olympic Games took place on the day of the opening of the 1948 Summer Olympics in London, United Kingdom. Jewish-German born Dr. Ludwig Guttmann of Stoke Mandeville Hospital, who had been helped to flee Nazi Germany by the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics (CARA) in 1939, hosted a sports competition for British World War II veteran patients with spinal cord injuries. The first games were called the 1948 International Wheelchair Games, and were intended to coincide with the 1948 Olympics. Dr. Guttman's aim was to create an elite sports competition for people with disabilities that would be equivalent to the Olympic Games. The games were held again at the same location in 1952, and Dutch and Israeli veterans took part alongside the British, making it the first international competition of its kind. These early competitions, also known as the Stoke Mandeville Games, have been described as the precursors of the Paralympic Games.