• Sat. Sep 24th, 2022

The Paralympic Movement yesterday and today

ByMary M. Ward

Sep 2, 2022

Barcelona 1992 has been described as the Paralympic Games that “changed the Movement forever”.

With packed stands, live coverage, record television audiences and a long-lasting legacy in the accessibility of the city, Barcelona 1992 set a new benchmark for the Games to follow.

In future editions of the Games, this benchmark has been met – and surpassed – with the Paralympic Movement continuing to grow and strengthen. But this progress would not have been possible without the 12 days of magic that took place in the Spanish coastal city 30 years ago.

On the anniversary of Barcelona 1992, we look at how much the Paralympic movement has changed in the three decades since para archer Antonio Rebollo shot an arrow to light the Paralympic cauldron.

The Barcelona 1992 opening ceremony took place on 3 September. @IPC

Boom of athletes

SO: 2,999 para-athletes participated in the 1992 Paralympic Games.

NOW: Tokyo 2020 brought together 4,403 para-athletes, which represents a 32% increase compared to Barcelona.

Gender parity

SO: Barcelona 1992 had 70% male athletes (2,300) against 24% (699) female athletes.

NOW: A record number of female athletes participated in Tokyo 2020. There were 1,853 female athletes compared to 2,550 male athletes and 1,853 female athletes, a split of 58% male to 42% female. The previous record for female participation was set at Rio 2016, where 1,671 women competed, or 38.6% of the total.


SO: 103 delegations participated in the 1992 Paralympic Games.

NOW: A total of 162 National Paralympic Committees (NPCs) participated in the Tokyo Paralympic Games. This included the Refugee Paralympic Team made up of six athletes and five nations making their Paralympic debut: Bhutan, Grenada, Maldives, Paraguay, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The number of NPCs was expected to be greater, but the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic prevented some athletes from traveling to Japan. As a result, while Tokyo 2020 saw an increase from the 159 delegations present at Rio 2016, London 2012 remains the Games with the highest number of participating NPCs, with 164.

Wheelchair basketball was one of 16 sports featured at the 1992 Paralympic Games. @Gray Mortimore/Allsport

Sports program

SO: 16 sports were on the sports program of Barcelona 1992. These were para archery, para athletics, boccia, para cycling, 7-a-side football, judo, goalball, para powerlifting, para sport shooting, para swimming, para table tennis, sitting volleyball, weightlifting, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair fencing and wheelchair tennis.

NOW: 22 sports were on the Tokyo 2020 programme. New sports since Barcelona 1992 were para badminton, blind football, para canoeing, para equestrian, para rowing, para taekwondo, para triathlon and wheelchair rugby . 7-a-side football and weightlifting were not contested at Tokyo 2020.

Sports debut

SO: Wheelchair tennis achieved medal status for the first time in Barcelona in 1992. It was a demonstration sport at the Paralympic Games in Seoul in 1988.

NOW: Para-badminton and para-taekwondo made their debuts at Tokyo 2020, while wheelchair tennis was one of the most popular sports, with host nation hero Shingo Kunieda winning the men’s singles title. It was her third Paralympic singles title following her victories at Beijing 2008 and London 2012.

torch relay

SO: The torch relay crossed 30 districts of the Barcelona metropolis with the participation of 500 torchbearers. To complete the relay, para archer Antonio Rebollo fired a flaming arrow into the cauldron. A few weeks earlier, he fulfilled the same role during the opening ceremony of the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, making him the only Paralympic athlete to have lit the Olympic cauldron.

NOW: 1,070 torchbearers took part in the Tokyo 2020 torch relay, not counting those who carried the torch during the opening ceremony.

Paralympic archer Antonio Rebollo lit the flame during the Olympic and Paralympic Opening Ceremonies. @GettyImages

Royal support

SO: King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain attended the opening ceremony of the 1992 Paralympic Games. They returned for the closing ceremony, this time also with Princess Cristina.

NOW: Japanese Emperor Naruhito declared the 2020 Paralympic Games open, while his younger brother, Crown Prince Fumihito, attended the closing ceremony.

Medal Events

SO: There were 489 medal events at Barcelona 1992.

NOW: 539 events with medals were contested at Tokyo 2020.

Fastest Paralympian

SO: Nigerian sprinter Ajibola Adeoye finished the men’s 100m TS4 in 10.72 seconds.

NOW: Brazil’s Petrucio Ferreira dos Santos set a Paralympic record 10.53 seconds to win gold in the men’s T47 100m at Tokyo 2020, the closest equivalent to Adeyoe’s TS4 race in 1992.

Nigerian Ajibola Adeoye, second from right, won the men’s 100m TS4 in Barcelona in 1992. @Gray Mortimore/Getty Images

Marathon record

SO: Switzerland’s Heinz Frei beat a field of 196 competitors to win the men’s wheelchair marathon in 1:30:00 hours.

NOW: Fellow Swiss Marcel Hug won his second straight Paralympic Games gold medal in the men’s T54 wheelchair marathon with a time of 1:24:02 hours. Two months later, on November 21, 2021, Hug finished the Oita Marathon in 1:17:47 to break a 22-year-old world record that Frei set in 1999 (1:20:14).

The biggest winners

SO: American swimmer Trischa Zorn won 10 gold medals and two silver medals in the women’s races for the visually impaired in Barcelona in 1992. Her Paralympic career spanned from 1980 to 2004 and yielded a total of 55 Paralympic medals , including 41 gold, making her the most decorated Paralympian ever.

NOW: Another swimmer, Ukrainian Maksym Krypak, was the most decorated athlete at the Tokyo 2020 Games. He won five gold medals, one silver and one bronze in the men’s S10 events.

Britain’s Janice Burton was one of 699 female athletes at Barcelona in 1992. @Gray Mortimore/Allsport

Medal count

SO: The United States finished first in the medal tally. Germany finished second, followed by Great Britain, France and Spain for an almost entirely European Top 5.

NOW: The power rankings have changed over the past few decades with China topping the medal table for the fifth consecutive Games. Chinese athletes won 207 medals, including 96 gold, and were followed by Britain and the Russian Paralympic Committee. The United States and Ukraine complete the Top 5. Tokyo 2020 also had more countries winning medals than ever before with 86 countries winning at least one medal. Costa Rica, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the United Arab Emirates won Paralympic gold medals for the first time in history.


SO: There were 8,000 volunteers supporting the 1992 Games in Barcelona. They were selected from a variety of associations, federations, sports clubs, high schools and universities, among other groups.

NOW: The Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee aimed to recruit 80,000 volunteers for the Games and received 204,680 applications. In the end, a total of 70,970 volunteers were recruited for the Games, including 24,514 people who volunteered for the Paralympics. Three volunteers were over 90 years old.