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A Quick History on Wheelchair Racing

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  • 1944: The history of wheelchair racing begins during WWII. In 1944, with many veterans newly wheelchair bound, Sir Ludiwg Guttman, the director of the Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in England, began to incorporate wheelchair sports as rehabilitation for his patients.
  • Late 1940: After Sir Ludwig Guttman’s competitions, the popularity of competitive wheelchair sports skyrocketed in England as well as in the United States. His wheelchair sports paved the way for the international acceptance of wheelchair users in sports.
  • 1952: The first ever international wheelchair race for WWII veterans is organized in Great Britain. There was a total of 130 athletes that participated in the event. At that time, they competed with very heavy and bulky wheelchairs in short races such as the 100m sprint.
  • 1964: Wheelchair racing is made an official event in the Tokyo Paralympics. The races were an immediate crowd favorite. During these games, American athlete, Carol Giesse, won a gold medal for the 60m sprint.
  • 1976: Officials begin to allow longer races up to 1500m after Eugene Roberts, a double amputee, unofficially completed the Boston Marathon in his wheelchair. Roberts was allowed to begin the course an hour early and finished in seven hours.
  • Early 1980s: During the 1980s, athletes began transforming their wheelchairs to accommodate for smoother and faster performance during races. Before this, their chairs still had many traditional components of typical wheelchairs. They also started seeking out more specialized and targeted training.
  • Late 1980s: The first three-wheeled racing chairs started to appear and were approved for use in official races. The weight of the chairs was also dramatically reduced. As these technological advances emerged, the world began to see an incredible shift and peaked interest in wheelchair sports.
  • 1990s: Athletes make the move from racing in a sitting to a kneeling position. The aerodynamics of the chair became incredibly important. Athletes made small changes to deter anything from slowing them down. Helmets were redesigned and more care was taken into the making and choosing of gloves.
  • Present: With such advanced technology, racing wheelchairs now allow their athletes to move faster than ever before. This sport is now recognized globally, which has opened the door for many up-and-coming athletes. Many countries around the world have incorporated wheelchair categories in marathons.


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