The first Winter Olympic Games for the Disabled were held in 1976 in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden, following the introduction of the summer Paralympic Games in Rome,1960.

The games evolved from competitions held post WW2 between British convalescent hospitals to help rehabilitate soldiers who had lost limbs in the war. Like the summer games the Paralympics have been held alongside the Winter Olympics every four years since 1992. 

Almost 200 athletes from 16 countries competed in the first Paralympic Winter Games, and the newly founded competition introduced classifications for those with impairments other than just the wheelchair category. 

Alpine & Nordic skiing have featured in the games since their inception, with Biathlon being introduced in 1988 and Snowboarding in 2014. 

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Alpine countries have traditionally led the leaderboards at the Winter Paralympic Games with Norway topping the table at 135 Gold medals in its 319 total. Germany has the most medals at 345 with 130 of those Gold. Second to Germany on total medals is Austria with 325, 104 of those Gold. In recent years Russia has rocketed up the medal table, winning the most medals in the 2014 and 2006 games. With recent events surrounding athlete doping, the Russians will be competing in the PyeongChang games as ‘Olympic Athletes from Russia’.

Classifications

There are six disability categories in the Paralympics:

  • Amputee: Athletes with partial or total loss of at least one limb
  • Cerebral Palsy: Athletes with a non-progressive brain damage impairment such as Cerebral Palsy, Brain Injury, Stroke or similar disabilities that affect muscle control, balance and/or coordination.
  • Intellectual Disability: Athletes with significant impairment in intellectual function and associated limitation to adaptive behaviour.
  • Wheelchair: Athletes with spinal cord injuries and other disabilities that require the use of a wheelchair.
  • Visually Impaired: Athletes with visual impairment ranging from partial visibility to legally blind and total blindness.
  • Les Autres: Athletes with a physical disability that does not fall directly into the other five categories, this could include congenital defects, dwarfism, multiple sclerosis and limb deficiencies.

Not all of the sports featured at the Winter Paralympics have an event running for every category, in Alpine & Nordic disciplines the classifications tend to be Visually Impaired, Standing and Sitting. 

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Team GB at the Paralympics

Great Britain have competed in every Winter Paralympics, with the first medals won by John Watkins who achieved Bronze in the Alpine Combination and Peter Young who took Bronze in Nordic 10km at the 1984 Innsbruck Games. Since then we have had a few good medal years, the 1992 Albertville Games saw Richard Burt taking Silver in the GS and Bronze in Super G the B3 class, with team mate Matthew Stockford picking up Bronze in GS, Super G and DH in the LW10 category. 1994’s Lillehammer Paralympics saw 5 Bronze medals for Team GB with James Barker 3rd in Downhill LWX class, Richard Burt Bronze in Super G and GS B3, Matthew Stockford repeating his 3rd place in the Super G LWX and Peter Young returning to the games to take Bronze in the Nordic 5km B1.

The Sochi Games was our first foray onto the top of the podium with Team GB the strongest they’ve ever been, jumping to 10th place on the medal table. 1 Gold, 3 Silver and 2 Bronze, 5 of those in Alpine Skiing thanks to Kelly Gallagher and her guide Charlotte Evans with our first ever Alpine Gold in the Super-G and Jade Etherington and her guide Caroline Powell with Silver in DH, Slalom, Combined and Bronze in the Super-G. With such a good result comes increased funding and improved training resources, so PyeongChang 2018 could be Britain’s best ever Winter Paralympics.