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An Equal Playing Field

Tuesday, September 7, 2004; Page C12

Approximately 4,000 athletes from nearly 150 countries will attend the Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece, Sept. 17-28. That's a big jump from the 400 athletes and 23 countries that went to the first Paralympics, held in Rome, Italy, in 1960.

Although people with disabilities have used sports as therapy since at least the 18th century, the idea of holding games modeled on the Olympics didn't advance until 1948, when a competition was staged in England for World War II veterans with spinal injuries. Today's Summer Paralympics include amputees, people with visual problems and the mentally disabled.

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At the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia, the United States finished fifth in the medal hunt, with a total of 109 medals, 36 of them gold. Australia was first, with 149 medals

(63 golds).

In Athens, athletes will compete in 18 sports, including archery, football, judo, volleyball, fencing, rugby and tennis.

Some are wheelchair sports. There also is a Winter Paralympics every four years. The next one will be in 2006

in Torino, Italy.


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