The 1970s was the decade in which the argument about the use of the name ‘Olympics’ erupted between Guttmann and the International Olympic Committee. This was also the decade when individual wheelchair sports started to set up their own governing bodies and championships, starting with the unofficial World Championship of what was to become the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation (IWBF) at Bruges in 1973.

Stoke Mandeville International Games

The Olympics took place every fourth year, but in the intervening three years Stoke Mandeville continued to host the international games. During the 1970s the facilities at Stoke Mandeville grew with its status as an international venue. The Sports Hall had opened in 1969, followed by the Indoor Bowls Centre and the ‘Olympic village’ in the 1970s.

However compared with Paralympic events now, it was still quite a home-spun enterprise with hospital staff doubling up as games administrators for the week. Sir Ludwig Guttmann expected all staff to help out. “You did not volunteer, you were volunteered”. But it was also seen as a privilege and the physiotherapists took turns on a roster. 

Prince Charles, Sir Ludwig Guttman and Jack Sutherland in the Indoor Bowls Centre at the 1973 International Games with two wheelchair bowlers and other officials behind them.

Prince Charles, Sir Ludwig Guttmann and Jack Sutherland in the Indoor Bowls Centre at the 1973 International Games. The Prince was a great supporter and came to Stoke Mandeville to open the games each year.

Image courtesy of R King

Mary Brennan with the Italian Team at Stoke Mandeville International Games in 1978

Mary Brennan with the Italian team at the Stoke Mandeville International Games in 1978. 

Image courtesy of Mary Brennan

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Physiotherapy at Stoke Mandeville

1972 Heidelberg Summer Paralympics

The 1972 Olympic Games were held in Munich, and Paralympic Games were held in nearby Heidelberg as there was not sufficient accommodation in Munich. 922 athletes from 41 countries, competed in 10 sports.  The GB team of 47 men and 25 women won a total of 16 Gold, 15 Silver and 21 Bronze medals.

Women wheelchair athletes in 1972, with matching dark blazers and white hats, lining up.

British Women's Team at the Heidelburg Games in 1972

Image courtesy of Margaret Maughan

1976 Ornskoldsvik Winter Paralympics

1976 saw the first Winter Games at Örnsköldsvik in Sweden (called the Winter Olympics for the Disabled).  However, this was only open to athletes who were blind or partially sighted or were amputees and not paraplegics.  Those who took part competed in Nordic and Alpine skiing events. 198 athletes from 16 countries, competing in 2 sports. The GB team of 6 men competed in Alpine and Cross Country skiing.

1976 Toronto Summer Paralympics

The 1976 Toronto Games were the first to use the title “Olympiad for the Physically Disabled”; the International Stoke Mandeville Games Federation (ISMGF) and the International Sports Organisation for the Disabled (ISOD) combined to create a single international event so for the very first time athletes who were blind or partially sighted and amputees competed along with the wheelchair based athletes.

1,271 athletes from 41 countries, competing in 447 events in 13 sports. The GB team of  64 men and 23 women won a total of 29 Gold, 28 Silver and 37 Bronze medals.

Women wheelchair athletes playing bowls. Umpire to the back of them.

England v Austria at bowls, Toronto 1976

Image courtesy of Margaret Maughan

Memories from the 1970s

Professor Wagih El-Masri trained under Professor Sir Ludwig Guttmann.

Mike Kenney and hospital club swimming.

Terry Willett, Fencing and Basketball in the 1970s.

Val Williamson's journey to medals at the Arnhem Games.