The Paralympic Games – seen through Danish eyes

There are moments in one’s life that can be quickly and easily drawn out on the retina. Among such moments in my life are several from the Paralympic Games: Peter Rosenmeier’s 3-1 final victory in set against German Daniel Arnold at Beijing University Gymnasium with enthusiastic 5,000 spectators at PL 2008 in Beijing, Annika Lykke Dalskov’s two bronze medals in dressage at Greenwich Park and Jackie Christiansen’s superb 18.16-meter shot put – almost 4 meters longer than the nearest competitors – at Queen Elizabeth Stadium with more than 70,000 spectators at the PL 2012 in London. These sporting achievements were impressive, but it was more the immediate delight and pride of Peter, Annika and Jackie that stuck as moments in the “archive of memories”. In the years prior to the PL medals, I had gotten to know the three parathletes as ambitious and skilled athletes, but also as open and friendly people, who had now achieved a visible and concrete reward for the many training hours and the numerous deprivations in relation to family and friends: A medal at the Paralympic Games – one of the world’s biggest sporting events.

Jubilæumsbog med stor indsigt og skarpt udsyn

Peter Rosenmeier, Annika Lykke Dalskov and Jackie Christiansen are just a few of the many parathletes who have represented Denmark at the Paralympic Games. “The Paralympic Games – seen through Danish eyes” (Syddansk Universitetsforlag, 2021) is the title of a new book published in connection with Parasport Denmark’s 50’th anniversary. The book is written by Jens Boe Nielsen, who has a master’s degree in Danish and P.E., former principal at Nørre Gymnasium and for a number of years national coach for Parasport Denmark’s swimming national team. Jens Boe Nielsen has for a long time also been a board member of Parasport Denmark and today he is deputy chairman. The author is thus one of Danish parasport’s absolute “heavyweights”, who has been very close to the parasport’s national and international development, both as sport, politically, organizationally and media-wise. The author’s great insight and sharp vision stand out clearly in the book, which contains both new knowledge and many exciting personal portraits. All supplemented by many impressive photos , which i.a. is provided by two of Denmark’s very best sports photographers: Preben B. Søborg (1943-2013), who had a big “heart for parasport” and Lars Møller.

Sir Ludwig Guttman – en “pioner” med stor faglig viden og visioner

The anniversary book documents Denmark’s participation in the Paralympic Games from shortly after World War II until the Winter PL 2018, which was held in Pyeongchang. Among the book’s most interesting chapters is the description of “The International Stoke Mandeville Games” (ISMG), which was initiated by the neurosurgeon Ludwig Guttman (1899-1980) and which became the “forerunner” of the Paralympic Games. Born in Poland, raised in Germany and fleeing to England in the late 1930’s, Sir Guttman set up a center for soldiers who had been injured during World War II with a broken back or paralysis in the legs. Guttman’s philosophy was that the injured person should move quickly with all muscles to optimize blood flow in the body and increase muscle mass. All forms of physical activity, including sports such as archery, throwing disciplines in athletics, netball, snooker and swimming, which were among the first games’ sports, could, according to Guttman’s philosophy, increase the quality of life of the disabled, both physically, mentally and socially. Guttman was thus a “pioneer” with great professional knowledge and visions for people who were born with a disability or who had been hit by an injury or accident during their lifetime.

International Stoke Mandeville Games – “the “forerunner” of the Paralympic Games

The number of participants and nations at the ISMG was modest until the end of the 1950’s, but from 1960 – when there were a total of 400 participants from 23 different nations – and onwards, the Paralympic Games really developed into a parallel to the Olympic Games. The first part of the book also contains a historical review of the formation of an international sports organization – “International Stoke Mandeville Games Foundation” (today International Paralympic Committee) – which over time included all groups of disabled: Mentally retarded, deaf, blind, spinal cord injured, spastic paralyzed and amputated. Likewise, ISMGF put more and more different sports on the competition program of the Paralympic Games and other championships and competitions.

Olympics and Paralympics – two equal sporting events

The main part of the anniversary book describes in chronological order the Paralympic Games from 1968 to 2018. A period in which Denmark has been represented at all PL, both summer and winter games. Each chapter contains a description of the host city and the status, framework and conditions of parasport in the host nation. One of the book’s most thought-provoking chapters is “1980 Arnhem, Holland”, which is designated as the host city, as “it was already clear in 1978 that the Soviet Union would not host the Games in 1980, even if they were to host the Olympics (1980 in Moscow) . According to the IPC, the Soviet Union announced that it had no disabled people with them. That is hardly true. The truth was probably that you did not have a tradition and that you did not have disability-friendly facilities that were suitable ”. Just as thought-provoking as the Soviet Union’s “absence” of parathletes is that the Paralympic Games are first held in connection with the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul in the same place, in the same facilities and with the same accommodation as the Olympic Games. Korea did this to the IOC at the Olympics five years earlier that there were two equal events, where helpers and technical judges were trained to be able to handle the disciplines at both the Olympics and the Paralympics. In this way, a new standard was created for the Paralympic Games, which also changed the media’s and many TV viewers’ perception of parasport and not least obliged all subsequent Olympic host cities in relation to the Paralympic Games.

Many exciting paratlet portraits – also outside the sports arena

The individual chapters also contain descriptions of the Danish delegation, both athletes, coaches, experts, helpers and leaders, and the results that Denmark achieved at the Paralympic Games. The chapters also contain exciting portraits of some of the most prominent Danish paratletes, such as Ingrid Lauridsen, Connie Hansen, John Petersson (today chairman of Parasport Denmark and boardmember of the International Paralympic Committee), Anne-Mette Bredahl, Henrik Jørgensen (today Henrik Woffinden), René Nielsen, Peter Lund Andersen and Daniel Wagner – portraits where the reader also gets an insight into the individual life stories outside the parasport.

Denmark – best Nordic nation at the Paralympic Games 2020

Parasport – both elite sports and physical activity for the disabled – has in recent decades become more and more widespread across the globe’s five continents. Of course, this development has also changed Denmark’s international position on the Paralympic Game’s sports rankings. At the 1984 Paralympic Games, Denmark achieved with 31 gold medals, 11 silver medals and 3 bronze medals its best ranking ever with an overall position as No. 11 in the Paralympic Game’s national competition. The 1984 Paralympic Games had the participation of a little more than 2,100 paratletes from 54 nations. For comparison, it can be mentioned the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo, which due to the Covid-19 pandemic was settled in September 2021 had the participation of 4,400 paratletes from 162 nations. The Danish athletes won a total of 3 gold medals, one silver medal and one bronze medal, which gave a place as No. 40 in national competition – ahead of our Nordic neighbors from Norway (No. 47), Sweden (No. 50) and Finland (No. 52). Today, strong sports nations such as China, the United States, Great Britain, Russia, Australia, the Netherlands, Japan, Italy and France dominated the medal podium at the Paralympic Games – just like at the Olympic Games.

A well-deserved tribute and a personal comment

“The Paralympic Games – seen through Danish eyes” can be highly recommended, as the anniversary book is full of facts, dilemmas and personal statements. The book is – in the author’s words – “a tribute to all people who have participated, and to all the coaches, leaders, helpers, nurses, physiotherapists, etc., who have contributed to creating a framework and conditions for the parasport has been able to develop over time ”. Let me just add a personal comment in connection with Parasport Denmark’s 50’th anniversary: ​​The most friendly, positive and grateful athletes – like Peter, Annika and Jackie – coaches and leaders in Danish elite sports I have met in Parasport Denmark – keep up the good work in the next 50 years.

Further informations about international parasport

Parasport Danmark:

International Paralympic Committee: