Who’s who & what’s what: Your winning guide to the Paralympics

Our ParalympicsGB team will soon be converging on Brazil’s capital, Rio de Janeiro, to compete in 19 sports for the 2016 Paralympic Games. Here’s everything you need to know about ParalympicsGB and Sainsbury’s, how it all began and the months ahead.

Where did it all start?

Wheelchair athletes throwing javelins in the first Paralympics games

The first ‘paralympian’ was gymnast George Eyser who, in 1904, competed against able-bodied athletes in St. Louis, Missouri, despite having a wooden leg. Remarkably, he earned six medals in one day, including three golds and two silvers. Then, on the opening day of the 1948 Summer Olympics in London, the International Wheelchair Games was held.

This was the brainchild of Dr Ludwig Guttmann of Stoke Mandeville Hospital. Having treated servicemen injured during WW2, he hoped to give purpose to some of his patients.

The first official Paralympics were held at the 1960 Games in Rome.
Then, at the 1976 Games in Montreal, events were opened up to athletes with more varied disabilities, rather than just those in wheelchairs.

A winning partnership

Sainsbury’s became the first Paralympics-only sponsor of the London 2012 Paralympic Games, and is continuing its support for the British Paralympic Association as our athletes prepare for Rio.

Aiming to inspire a new generation of young people of all abilities to take
part in sport through their Active Kids Paralympic Challenge.

Schools can register for a free equipment pack to take on challenges in the run-up to Rio, so pupils can learn more about the different Paralympic sports our athletes will be competing in – and give them a try.

A different class

Men competing in wheelchair Boccia

Two of the sports in this year’s Paralympics, Goalball and Boccia, have no direct equivalent in the Olympics. Here’s the lowdown…


With a history stretching back to Ancient Greece, Boccia has a lineage comparable to its close cousin, Crown Green Bowling.

Modern Boccia is a game of strategy and accuracy that was originally adapted for people with cerebral palsy but is now played by athletes with a number of different conditions that affect motor skills. Played on a smooth, level surface, a target ball or ‘jack’ is rolled out and players compete to roll their own coloured balls closest to it.

There are both individual and team disciplines, but the essential structure is the same. Opponents take it in turns to roll six balls, and points are awarded for the balls that are closest to the target.


Most top-flight sports are played in front of a wildly cheering crowd. But Goalball is different. Devised post-WW2 as part of the rehabilitation for servicemen who had lost their sight, the game is played in complete silence so competitors can hear the tinkling of a bell inside the ball as two teams vie to propel it into the opposing goal.

Sitting Volleyball

A combination of volleyball and a German game called sitzbal, the sport features a smaller court and lower net than its Olympic counterpart, so tends to be a faster game.

Teams have three passes, to form an attacking play, before sending the ball over the net in an attempt to land it in the opposing team’s court.

Although the game is played sitting down, many players are ambulant, with conditions that prevent them from competing in non-disabled volleyball. So don’t be surprised if you see players stand up to celebrate a point.

When’s it all happening?  and where?


The 15th Paralympic Games takes place in Rio between September 7 and 18.

A team of 258 athletes make up ParalympicsGB, competing in 19 sports
including two introduced for the first time this year: para-canoeing and the

ParalympicsGB have never finished outside the top five in the medal table, and will be hoping to better their London 2012 haul of 120 medals, including 34 golds.

The coverage

Actor RJ Mitte presents the Paralympic Games

Channel 4 named 2016 its ‘Year of Disability’, pledging to increase the representation of people with disabilities in broadcasting. Appropriately, nearly two-thirds of the talent working on Channel 4’s Paralympics coverage will be people with disabilities.

The TV coverage of the Paralympics will be led by Clare Balding and The Last Leg’s Adam Hills, alongside Formula 1 presenter Lee McKenzie and former Olympic champion Jonathan Edwards. Actor RJ Mitte, who played Walt Jr in Breaking Bad, broadcaster Sophie Morgan and former marine commando JJ Chalmers will also be regularly appearing on screen.

Some familiar faces from Channel 4’s 2012 coverage, including wheelchair basketball player. Ade Adepitan and former marine Arthur Williams, will also be returning.

Read about our Paralympics Team GB and how to get the games going in your garden.