Background to the Games

In August 1987 the International Co-coordinating Committee Sports for the Disabled in the World (ICC) decided at a conference that the 1992 Paralympics would be held in Barcelona, the fourth time they would be held in the same city as the Olympics. In April 1989, the Barcelona Olympic Organising Committee created its own Paralympic division and formalised its’ agreement with the ICC on the 20th July 1989. 

11 of the former Soviet Republics (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan) competed as a unified team as the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991 had not given each country enough time to make their own preparations.

The build-up to the Games

Logo

Logo for the Barcelona 1992 Paralympic Games

© International Paralympic Committee (IPC)

Designed by Josep Maria Trias, it is a symbolic depiction of someone using a wheelchair, the red and yellow represent the national colours of Spain and the Spanish flag, while the blue represents the Mediterranean, which is considered an integral part of Barcelona.

Poster

Poster for the Barcelona 1992 Summer Paralympics

© Ian Brittain

The poster was of a similar design to that of the main Olympics poster, albeit with the Paralympic logo. The Latin font was chosen to represent traditionalism and seriousness, as well as to reflect the Mediterranean setting of the Games.

Slogan

The slogan for the 1992 Paralympics was “Sport without limits”, reflecting the Paralympic values of pushing against the odds for success.

Changes to Events

For the first time, wheelchair tennis was included as a medal sport, having only been a demonstration sport at the previous Seoul Summer Paralympics in 1988. 

Due to new, strict rules and regulations on eligibility put in place by the Barcelona organising committee, with the intention of improving the credibility and quality of competition, several events had to be cancelled or rescheduled. Controversial at the time, these led to a simplified, higher level of competition and enabled athletes with different disabilities to compete in the same events.

Venues

Montjuic area

The area known as the Olympic Ring (Anella Olímpica) covers an area of approximately 4 square kilometres of Montjuïc Park and is the location of several venues which were built or renovated for the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games.

  • Olympic Stadium
    In Catalan and Spanish, Estadi Olímpic.
    Designed by architect Pere Domènech i Roura, the stadium was built in 1927 for an International Exposition in 1929 and to support an unsuccessful bid for the 1936 Summer Olympics. Major renovations, under architect Vittorio Gregotti, only left the outer façade as the stadium was redsigned to suit a televised sporting event after Barcelona won the bid to host the 1992 Summer Olympics.
    Spectator capacity - 67,000
    Used for opening and closing ceremonies and athletics.
  • Palau d’Esports de Badalona
    Designed by architects Esteve Bonell and Francesc Rius for the 1992 Summer Olympics, the building opened in 1991.
    Spectator capacity - 12,500
    Used for basketball.
  • Palau Sant Jordi 
    In Catalan and Spanish, Palau Sant Jordi.
    Opened in 1990, Barcelona’s largest covered sports facility was designed by the Japanese architect Arata Isozaki and is recognised as one of the city’s outstanding buildings.
    Spectator capacity - 15,000
    Used for table tennis and volleyball.
  • Bernat Picornell Pools
    In Catalan, Piscines Bernat Picornell, in Spanish, Piscinas Bernat Picornell.
    Named after Bernat Picornell, a famous Catalan swimmer and founder of the Spanish Swimming Federation, the venue was designed by Antoni Lozoya and Joan Ricard.
    Built to host the 1970  European Aquatics Championships, it was refurbished between 1990 and 1992, under architects Franc Fernandez and Moisés Gallego, in preparation for the 1992 Summer Olympics.
    Spectator capacity - 3,000
    Used for swimming.
  • National Institute of Physical Education of Catalonia
    In Catalan, l’Institut Nacional d’Educació Física de Catalunya (INEFC), in Spanish, Instituto Nacional de Educación Física de Cataluña.
    The headquarters of the INEFC was one of the sports facilities in the Master Plan for the Anella Olímpica (Olympic Ring) on Montjuïc hill. The design was commissioned from Ricard Bofill in 1984 and Barcelona City Council approved the project in 1987. Construction work started in February 1988 and was completed in 1991.
    Used for wheelchair fencing and judo.
  • Pau Negre Municipal Stadium
    In Catalan, l’Estadi Municipal Pau Negre, in Spanish, Estadio Municipal Pau Negre.
    Officially opened in 1975 as Camp del Cinquantenari, in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the Catalan Hockey Federation.
    In 1978 it was refurbished and renamed Pau Negre, after the Catalan hockey player and manager.
    The pitch was moved some 150 metres to make way for the INEFC and Palau Sant Jordi.
    Used for 7-a-side football.
  • l’Espanya Industrial Pavillion
    In Catalan, Pavelló de l’Espanya Industrial, in Spanish, Pabellón de la España Industrial.
    Designed by architects Ramon Artigues and Ramon Sanabria for the 1992 Olympics, the pavilion was built on a brownfield site in line with the urban regeneration policy of the Barcelona’92 Olympic project.
    It was opened on in December 1991 to host the World Weightlifting Cup before the Olympic Games.
    Used for powerlifiting.

Parc de Mar area

Also known as the Olympic Village area, Parc de Mar underwent the greatest transformation of the four areas created for the 1992 Games, involving the urban redevelopment of 1 square kilometre of brownfield land.

  • La Mar Bella Pavilion
    In Catalan, Pavelló de la Mar Bella, in Spanish, Pabellón de la Mar Bella.
    The pavilion, designed by the architects Manuel Rui Sánchez and Xavier Vendrell for the 1992 Summer Olympics, opened in May 1992. Spectator capacity – the capacity was temporarily increased from 1,000 to 4,000 for the Olympic Games.
    Used for boccia.

Vall d’Hebron area

Redesigned for the 1992 Olympic Games as a large recreational area, new facilities, such as the archery field had to be developed, while others, such as the Horta Velodrome, already existed.

  • La Vall d’Hebron Pavilion
    In Catalan, Pavelló de la Vall d’Hebron, in Spanish, Pabellón de la Vall d’Hebron.
    Built for the 1992 Summer Olympics, the venue is now known as Vall d’Hebron Olympic Municipal Sports Centre and is the second largest covered sports facility in the city.
    Spectator capacity – indoor arena 3,000
    Pavillion used for goalball and wheelchair tennis, outdoor facility for archery.
  • Horta Velodrome
    In Catalan, Velòdrom d’Horta, in Spanish, Velódromo de Horta.
    Built in 1984, the velodrome was the first project delivered to support the 1986 bid to host the 1992 Summer Olympics. It was designed by Esteve Bonell and Francesc Rius in conjunction with Herbert Schürmann, a specialist in velodrome and cycle-track architecture.
    It was the last permanent open-air velodrome used for Olympic Track Cycling events.
    Spectator capacity – 3,800.
    Used for cycling.

Badalona area

  • Municipal Sports Palace
    In Catalan, Palau d’Esports de Badalona, in Spanish, Palacio de Deportes de Badalona.
    Designed by Catalan architects Esteve Bonell and Francesc Rius the venue opened in 1991.
    Spectator capacity - 12,500. 
    Used for wheelchair basketball.

Mollet de Valles area

  • Olympic Shooting Field
    In Catalan, El camp de Tir Olímpic, in Spanish, El campo de Tiro Olímpico.
    Built in the grounds of the Police Academy in 1990, with strategically planted trees to provide a sound barrier.
    Spectator capacity – 5,000.
    Used for shooting.

Mascot

Mascot for the Barcelona 1992 Summer Paralympics

© International Paralympic Committee (IPC)

Created by Javier Mariscalal, the character, named Petra, was designed to look friendly and cheerful while apparently being ‘clever, extroverted, thinks for herself and has many friends. She is a little stubborn, has an impressive store of inner energy and never cries.’

The Paralympic Flame

Local councils and civic groups came together to arrange the torch relay route which ran through thirty districts in the Barcelona metropolitan area.

From the 31st of August to the 3rd of September, the 500 torch bearers, 40% of whom were disabled, with many others being celebrities from the worlds of sport, politics, acting and music, were greeted by thousands of people. The Paralympic flame was first carried into the stadium by Jose Santos Poyatos, a single arm amputee. He then passed it to the blind Puri Santmarta, who ran with her guide dog. The flame was then passed to Cerebral Palsy athlete Neus Alverez Costa. She in turn passed it on to Bertrand de Five Pranger, who, in his wheelchair, took the torch up the slope. Finally, the Paralympic archer Antonio Rebollo fired the flame with his bow and arrow into the cauldron.

The opening ceremony

Opening ceremony of the Barcelona 1992 Paralympic Games

British athletes at the opening ceremony parade © International Paralympic Committee (IPC)

The opening ceremony took place on the evening of Thursday 3rd September. It was held in the Estadi Olympic in front of an audience of 65,000. The ceremony began at 6:00pm when a girl at the top of a human pyramid formed by the Falcons de Vilafranca (a Barcelona gymnastic group) blew a kiss at the spectators before the members of each national team paraded around the stadium. This was followed by speeches from Pasqual Maragall, Mayor of Barcelona, José María Arroyo, President of the ONCE Foundation and Guillermo Cabezas, President of the ICC before HM Queen Sofia of Spain declared the Games to be open. Then the torch procession began, with several athletes passing the torch to one another. After archer Antonio Rebollo fired the flame into the cauldron, the athletes and officials’ oaths were taken and the ceremony finished with some musical entertainment, and a recorded message from Stephen Hawking. 

The presence of Juan Antonio Samaranch, President of the International Olympic Committee, was seen as reinforcing the increasing recognition of the Paralympic Games.

Footage of the Opening Ceremony 

During the Games

The Paralympians were accommodated in the Olympic Village, where some 1,253 rooms on the lower floors were adapted with wider doorways for wheelchair users, taps with one handle and bars and handles to help with mobility. The lifts in the buildings were widened and the control panels, which were placed lower down, incorporated braille.

Remotely controlled guides were installed in some buildings to help blind competitors orient themselves more easily.

Among the 8,000 volunteers, selected from a variety of associations, federations, sports clubs, secondary schools, universities and associations for the disabled, the group of hosts provided logistical support to the competitors, supplying information about the city or the Games and accompanying them to different places.

The Medals

Barcelona 1992 Paralympics front of the gold medal with logoBarcelona 1992 Paralympics back of the gold medal with writing and braille

Winning medals ©Ian Brittain

Designed by Javier Mariscal, the front of the medal shows the Paralympic logo, and the back features the Latin Paralimpics Barcelona’92, and features this in Braille.

Medal statistics

Great Britain won a total of 128 medals, 40 gold, 47 silver and 41 bronze, finishing 3rd in the medal table.

Prominent British Paralympic athletes

  • Chris Holmes - A visually impaired swimmer, won gold in three freestyle, two backstroke and one medley events as well as silver in the 400m medley. Find out more in an interview with Chris here.
  • Noel Thatcher – Having spent his early school years trying to avoid the schools’ compulsory, three times a week, cross country run, in a 2004 interview he said "I liked the idea of being successful and the identity it brought me at school, which was a very competitive environment both academically and sports-wise."
    Having broken the 1500m world record six weeks before the Barcelona Games, he went on to win gold in the Men's 1500m B2 and break the Paralympic record.
  • John Nethercott – A Welsh Athlete with Cerebral Palsy, John broke the world record to win gold in the Men's 1500m C7-8, he also won bronze in the Men's 800m C7-8.
  • Caroline Innes (later Baird) – A Scottish Athlete with cerebral palsy, Caroline was originally a member of the Scottish Junior Squad who competed in the British Junior Swimming Championships at Stoke Mandeville. Subsequently she made the move to athletics, first competing at the World Games in 1989 as part of the Scottish Youth Team. The 1992 Paralympics were her first, and she won gold in the 100m C5-6.
  • Tanni Grey (later Grey-Thompson) – An athlete who suffers from spina bifida, Tanni’s athletics career started at the Junior National Games for Wales in 1984. In Barcelona, her second Paralympics, she won gold in the 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m races for class TW3, and silver in the 4x100 m TW3-4. Learn more about her experiences here.
  • Esther Cruice - Esther set a new world record to win gold in the 400 m C7-8 and also won silver in the 100m and 200m C7-8.

Media coverage at the event

1992 was the first Paralympics that was televised live to a domestic Spanish audience of 7 million. 

However, in Britain, media coverage of the event was still minimal. The BBC provided some coverage as part of their programme, Grandstand. Other than this, there was little mention of the Games in BBC news and sport bulletins.

The closing ceremony

Closing ceremony of the 1992 Barcelona Paralympic Games

British athletes at the closing ceremony ©Ian Brittain

The closing ceremony took place on Monday 14th September, in front of 45,000 spectators including King Juan Carlos, Queen Sofia and Princess Cristina, the capacity of the stadium having been reduced by 20,000 to accommodate the area needed for the performers.

When all the athletes were gathered on the infield the ceremony began with a firework display. After the flag was lowered and handed over to Andrew Fleming, President of the Atlanta Paralympic Organising committee, there was a brief presentation from the City of Atlanta as hosts of the 1996 Games.

The Legacy of the Games

In 2017, IPC President Sir Philip Craven said: 

Barcelona 1992 changed the Movement forever

Going on to say: 

The Games were first class in so many areas. The venues were packed full of passionate sports fans, there was live TV coverage for the first time, the sport and organisation was fantastic, and hosting the Paralympics led to significant improvements in accessibility which have continued to this day.

The Organising Committee for the Barcelona 1992 Games, with the backing of city and Catalan authorities, and the ONCE Foundation, made the Paralympics a stunning success, a success that acted as a strong foundation from which the Paralympic Movement could build. I think few would argue that Barcelona 1992 had more impact on the Paralympic Movement than any Games before or after.

The support of the then-IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch was also crucial to the success of the Barcelona 92 Paralympics and, from that time on, the IOC and IPC started to develop a relationship that continues and benefits both parties to this day.

When a city wins the right to stage the Games, it cannot make absolutely everything accessible in the seven years it has to plan and prepare for the Opening Ceremony. Barcelona had a good go, however, but what has struck me the most is that accessibility improvements have continued ever since the Games finished.

When I came here in 2002, I didn’t realise until leaving just how easy it had been for me to get around in my wheelchair. Accessibility is at its best when you do not notice it and that’s what Barcelona now provides.

Barcelona can now be regarded as one of the most accessible cities in the world and this is a direct result of the fantastic Games we enjoyed back in 1992.

The Official Report of the Barcelona ’92 IX Paralympic Games says:

The sports organisation of the Barcelona Paralympic Games was based on the competitiveness, seriousness and the specific nature of this event. The integration of the organisation of the Olympic and Paralympic Games was the main point of reference regarding the work to be completed before the Games. 

The Games were a top-level competition between athletes chosen for marks and their proven ability, and grouped according to an innovative functional classification system developed for Barcelona’92. The use of the Olympic venues, the functional classification system, the doping controls, the use of top-quality sports materials and the participation of highly-trained, experienced competition officials all helped to reach the high level of competition desired. The organisation’s development of new rules for these Games, in cooperation with the international federations, was also important. 

All these factors helped contribute to the sporting successes, most eloquently demonstrated in the performances and good marks of the athletes. These successes were also aided by the use of new, more scientific, training methods; new prostheses, orthoses etc. and by the commercial sponsorship of disabled athletes.

References 

  • Brittain, I.S. (2012) From Stoke Mandeville to Stratford: A History of the Summer Paralympic Games. Champaign, Illinois: Common Ground Publishing.
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1992_Summer_Paralympics
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cobi_and_Petra
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Britain_at_the_1992_Summer_Paralympics
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noel_Thatcher
  • https://www.ayearinbarry.org.uk/project/john-nethercott
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caroline_Baird
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanni_Grey-Thompson
  • https://genome.ch.bbc.co.uk/1fbf561dac4045229462e1a73394f0e5
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g3boQjE0nZk
  • https://www.paralympic.org/news/barcelona-1992-25-years-0
  • https://www.shbarcelona.com/blog/en/olympic-stadium/
  • https://www.paralympic.org/barcelona-1992
  • http://www.barcelonaolimpica.net/en/paralympic92/
  • https://www.barcelonaturisme.com/wv3/en/page/1064/palau-sant-jordi.html
  • https://architectureofthegames.net/1992-barcelona/barcelona-1992-25-years-later-piscines-bernat-picornell/
  • https://ajuntament.barcelona.cat/guardiaurbana/en/noticia/the-pau-negre-25-years-on_475583
  • https://www.barcelona.cat/infobarcelona/en/the-barcelona-92-mar-bella-pavilion-now-the-cem-mar-bella_484161.html
  • https://www.telefericdemontjuic.cat/en/montjuic-olympic-ring
  • http://lameva.barcelona.cat/25anysolimpica/en/noticia/the-la-teixonera-vall-d-hebron-municipal-sports-complex-25-years-on
  • https://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/olympics/paralympic-sport/2386954/Paralympics-Thatcher-proud-to-fly-flag-for-Britain.html
  • https://www.ayearinbarry.org.uk/project/john-nethercott