What are the Paralympics?

  The Paralympic Games are a biennial event for elite athletes with any disability. They follow the Olympic Games every two years, with both summer and winter Games.
  The Paralympics are not to be confused with the Special Olympics, for athletes with mental retardation. The Special Olympics are a year-round program that emphasizes the benefits of training along with competition at the local, area, state and International levels.
  This year's Paralympics in Atlanta features 3,500 disabled athletes from 120 nations.
 The Paralympic Games began in Rome in 1960 and have been held every Olympic year since, usually in the city or country hosting the Olympic Games.
  A quick rundown:
  Athletes: Special Olympics involves over 500,000 athletes from 8 to 80 with mental retardation. Paralympics provides world-level competition for elite athletes with any disability. This year, for the first time, some individuals with mental retardation will compete in the Paralympic Games. Many of these athletes received their training through Special Olympics. Olympic Games are open to any athletes who qualify.
 
  Competition: While competition and winning are just as important to Special Olympics athletes as those in Paralympics and the Olympic Games, Special Olympics is unique in that it encourages participation and the year- round, lifetime benefits of sports training. We call this "Training for Life." Research shows that Special Olympics participation leads to higher social competence and better self-esteem among participating athletes.
 
  Ability Levels: Every year there are over 15,000 Special Olympics competitive events around the world. Competition in 23 sports is open to athletes of every ability level. Special Olympics does hold World Games every two years, alternating between Summer and Winter Games, to bring together Special Olympics athletes from around the world. The ninth Special Olympics World Summer Games in New Haven, Conn., in July, 1995, involved more then 7,000 athletes from over 140 countries and drew 500,000 spectators. The next Special Olympics World Winter Games will be February 1-8, 1997, in Toronto, Canada.
 
  Sources: Special Olympics International, Associated Press

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