While London was hosting its second Olympics – the 1948 'Austerity Games' – history was being made a short journey away in the Buckinghamshire town of Stoke Mandeville, where a small sporting competition involving sixteen British World War II veterans with spinal cord injuries was taking place.
Organised by Dr Ludwig Guttmann, a German-Jewish neurologist who fled Nazi Germany in the 1930s, the 1948 Stoke Mandeville Games for the Paralysed are considered to be the first ever Paralympics. The Stoke Mandeville Games returned on a yearly basis, and in 1952 they became the International Wheelchair Games with the arrival of Dutch athletes.
In 1960, the Stoke Mandeville Games took place in Rome and were no longer reserved solely for war veterans. By now the event had grown considerably and Dr Guttmann was able to take 400 athletes from 23 countries to the Italian capital to compete following that year's Summer Olympics in Rome.
The "Parallel Olympics" were born and have since taken place the month after every Summer Olympics since – although it was not until 1984 that the term "Paralympic Games" was approved by the International Olympic Committee. Usually held in the same city or nation as the Olympic host, in 1984 the Paralympics returned to Stoke Mandeville in a duel event co-hosted by New York.
In 1960 the Games were only open to athletes with spinal cord injuries and there were no more than three athletes or teams per event so that every athlete was guaranteed a medal upon completing his or her event (eight events included snooker and 'darchery' – a combination of darts and archery that featured until the 1984 Paralympics).
London 2012 will be the biggest Paralympic Games ever, with around 4,200 athletes competing for 165 nations (including San Marino and Solomon Islands for the first time). The London Paralympics will be the first Games since the 2000 Sydney Games in which athletes with intellectual disabilities (ID) will be authorised to compete following the overturning of a ban. Athletics, swimming, rowing and table tennis will now once again include events with an ID classification but with a more stringent screening process. With London 2012 set to be one of the biggest ever Games, check out our map of the London Paralympics.