Torino Welcomes Paralympic Athletes

Fresh from its successful hosting of the 20th Olympic Winter Games last month, Torino, Italy, is now set to welcome more than 500 athletes from 39 different countries to the 2006 Paralympic Winter Games starting today, March 10.

The Paralympic Games have followed the Olympic Games at the same venue since the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, Korea, and the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville, France. Athletes in Torino will compete in Alpine skiing, biathlon, ice sledge hockey, Nordic skiing and wheelchair curling, a new Paralympic event.

Festivities got underway on Tuesday of this week, when the Paralympic flame was lit at the Coliseum in Rome by an athlete from the Rome 1960 Paralympic Games, a current athlete with a disability and a child with a disability, representing three generations of participation. The flame began its journey through Torino on March 8.

Athletes taking part in the Paralympic Games have traditionally been assigned for competitive purposes to one of six groups based on medical diagnosis and resulting level of disability: amputation, cerebral palsy, visual impairment, spinal cord injuries, intellectual disability and "les autres," which covers athletes with other disabilities (including multiple sclerosis) who are unable to participate in other sports organizations.

However, each sporting event has its own requirements for participation. For instance, the new Paralympic event of wheelchair curling is restricted to athletes with double amputations, multiple sclerosis, lower-limb disability or those who use wheelchairs for their daily or main mobility.

The Paralympic Games trace their roots back to a 1948 athletic competition for British World War II veterans with spinal cord injuries. Athletes from the Netherlands also participated in the next event four years later, and in 1960, the Olympic city of Rome hosted the first Paralympic Games, which have been held during Olympic years ever since. More than 3,800 athletes from 136 countries participated in the last Paralympic Games, held in Athens following the 2004 Summer Olympics.

To follow Paralympic Games results, medal counts and athlete stories, go to www.paralympicgames.torino2006.org. The Paralympics' closing ceremony will take place Sunday, March 19.

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