From the archive: the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics

The Olympics are over but off to Tokio in two plane-loads today and tomorrow go another 70 British sports men and women to compete in an International Sports Meeting at which 400 competitors will represent 22 nations. For a fortnight they will live in the Olympic village and compete in swimming, basketball, archer, field events, table-tennis. They are all partially paralysed and most of them are confined to wheelchairs. But they have become good enough to represent Britain in the Thirteenth International Stoke Mandeville Games.

It was in 1952 that the first modest sports day was held at Stoke Mandeville Spinal Injuries Centre, near Aylesbury. Four Dutchmen were the only overseas competitors. In 1944, a doctor had had the idea that competitive sport might be a useful addition to conventional remedial exercises in teaching balance and muscle coordination in the rehabilitation of paralysed people. He could hardly have foreseen that within a few years hundreds of men and women who till recent years would never have left their own neighbourhood, if indeed, they survived at all, would find new hope, new incentives, and a chance to travel all over the world.

Jim Gibson, from Belfast, who has been in a wheelchair since a motorcycle accident at the age of twenty, eight years ago, plays basketball and table tennis, and it is an alarming experience for the spectator to see him and his teammates racing along at high speed, catching a ball from a long pass with one hand while controlling the chair with the other, or scooping up the ball from the ground while positioning the chair for shot at goal.

Carole Tetley, a 21-year-old comptometer operator, who was a cycling champion till a crash left her paralysed from the waist, is going to Tokio as a member of the archery and table tennis teams. She used a bow with a 30lb pull. “I never thought I could get a thrill out of something as static as archery” she says, “but when I tried it I found I could do it. That was my first thrill. Now it’s fascinating just to sit there and go “zing-zing-zing!”

The International Stoke Mandeville International Games are held overseas every second year. Money to pay the fares of competitors and their escorts is raised by the efforts of hundreds of well-wishers and by paraplegics themselves. More money will be needed to build a much-needed indoor sports stadium at Stoke Mandeville so that the Games can be independent of the weather, to say nothing of the disorganisation caused by the biennial influx of several hundred people.

The Paralympic Games
The Observer, 8 November 1964

Tim Brookshaw, the 35-year-old jockey injured this year in a fall at Aintree is one of the athletes from Britain competing in the “Paralympics” Games for the paralysed in Tokyo today. He competes as a weightlifter.

As all the competitors are confined to wheelchairs, all the steps around the Olympic village have been replaced with ramps and the seats have been removed from the Olympic Theatres.

Originally established as the Stoke Mandeville Games by German-British neurologist Ludwig Guttmann in 1948, the events were set up as a means to combine sport and rehabilitation for injured veterans of the second world war. In 1964, he became frustrated by the lack of Paralympic coverage in the British press.

‘Poor’ press coverage of games
23 November 1964

The British press was attacked by Dr Ludwig Guttmann, founder of the International Stoke Mandeville Games for the paralysed yesterday for the poor coverage of the four-day event in Tokio recently.

Three hundred and seventy wheelchair competitors from 22 nations, including 70 from Great Britain, took part. Dr Guttmann said: “Radio and television coverage was better than ever, but the press of this country was again pretty lame. It is obvious it still considers the Stoke Mandeville games as news and not as a sport as it should be. This is contrary to the attitude of the press in other countries”.

Britain’s first ever Paralympic gold medal was awarded to Margaret Maughan, who won an archery event at the 1960 Games in Rome. Maughan would go on to win a further four medals in her Paralympic career, including gold in lawn bowls at the 1980 Games in Arnhem.