Background to the Games

The Nagano 1998 Winter Paralympic Games were the 7th such event but the first to be held outside Europe. This was only the second Winter Paralympic Games to be held in the same city as the Olympic Winter Games. The Games took place between the 5th and 14th March 1998.

After the International Olympic Committee (IOC) awarded the 1998 Winter Olympic Games to Nagano in June 1991, the city made a successful presentation to the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) General Assembly in September 1993 and the contract was signed on the 7th March 1994.

The build-up to the Games

Logo

Logo for the Nagano 1998 Paralympic Games

© International Paralympic Committee (IPC)

The logo design selected for the Nagano 1998 Winter Paralympics was designed by Sadahiko Kojima following the announcement of a national competition. It represents a simplified form of the Chinese character ‘naga’ for Nagano. It also symbolises a rabbit jumping and playing in snow or on ice with the swift movements that are characteristic of rabbits. This figure was combined with the Games details and the IPC logo of the three Tae-Geuks. 

Poster

Poster from the Nagano 1998 Winter Paralympics© Ian Brittain

Venues

  • M-Wave Stadium
    Designed by Kume Sekkei, the M-Wave was built for the 1998 Games.
    Spectator capacity – 18,000
    Used for ice sledge racing and the opening and closing ceremonies.
  • Aqua Wing Arena
    The arena, which has a retractable roof, was built on the site of a demolished public swimming pool for the 1998 Games.
    Spectator capacity – 6,000
    Used for ice sledge hockey.
  • Happo’one Resort
    The resort opened in 1928.
    Used for alpine skiing.
  • Snow Harp
    Used for cross-country skiing.
  • Nozawa Onsen Resort
    Used for biathlon.
  • Mount Higashidate
    Used for alpine skiing.
  • Mount Yakebitai
    Used for alpine skiing.

Mascot

Illustration of the mascot for the 1998 Nagano 1998 Winter Paralympic Games

© International Paralympic Committee (IPC)

Based on the emblem chosen for the logo, the mascot was named Parabbit after a national competition which drew 10,057 entries suggesting 3,408 different names.

The Paralympic Flame

Lit at the Tokyo Metropolitan Yoyogi Park, the flame was carried by 754 relay runners to the M-Wave where Japanese alpine athlete Naoya Maruyama lit the tower in the centre of the stadium. To allow the flame to burn continuously, people associated with the Dosojin Fire Festival lit a fire in a cauldron outside the stadium. Smaller cauldrons were also lit in Yamanouchi Town and Nozawa Onsen Village.

The opening ceremony

Opening ceremony at the M-Wave stadium at the Nagano 1998 Paralympics

Opening ceremony at the M-Wave Stadium © Ian Brittain

The theme of the opening ceremony was ‘Hope’, which was inspired by a George Frederick Watts painting in which a girl who is blindfolded sits on a devastated earth playing a lyre which has all its strings broken except one. According to the Official Report the theme also signifies that it was the first Winter Paralympics held in Asia and the last of the 20th century. 

President of the International Paralympic Committee, Robert Steadward, addressed the competitors saying

Now is the time for the best ever performances, for records broken and medals won... A great number of spectators from around the world await the spectacle of your excellent performance.

The Games were formally opened by Crown Prince Naruhito before live music and dance performances depicting Hope, Fire, Chaos and the Finale, with an overall theme of struggle and the co-existence of things that appear to be in opposition such as people with and without disabilities.

During the Games

Competitor skiing at the Nagano 1998 Winter Paralympics

A skiing competitor at the Nagano 1998 Paralympics © IPC

Initially, preparations were difficult, Fumio Miyake, Deputy Secretary General of the Nagano Paralympic Organising Committee (NAPOC) saying

When we began our preparations, public interest both in the disabled themselves and in barrier-free facilities was low. We had great difficulties procuring transportation vehicles and obtaining cooperation from various facilities. There were not enough step-free buses available, for instance.

However, the Nagano sites were developed with access in mind, a benefit of Government investment in facilities that would benefit people with disabilities and the growing elderly population. The Games attracted 3195 volunteers who were seen as providing an essential service in the success of the Paralympic Games, their helpfulness, and that of the officials, was remarked on by many athletes. 

A total of 151,376 spectators attended the Games, with 15,634 at the opening and closing Ceremonies.  Over the course of the Games, the official website recorded 7.7 million hits, with one million of those on the first and second days of competition.

Ice sledge speed skating event at the Nagano 1998 Paralympics

Ice sledge speed racing © Ian Brittain

Ice Sledge Speed Racing, a combination of luge and speed skating was included in the events schedule on and off from the Geilo 1980 Paralympics to Nagano in 1998 but it has since disappeared. The event involved a specially fitted sledge that the athletes sat on and very sharp poles they used to propel themselves across the ice. Hosts found the event to be very hard on ice venues making it difficult to maintain the ice rinks to use for other events.

The Medals

Front side of the gold medal from the Nagano 1998 Paralympic GamesReverse side of the gold medal with braille from the Nagano 1998 Paralympic Games

© Ian Brittain

The medals featured the Parabbit mascot, with the cases having the new three Tae-Geuks emblem, replacing the five Tae-Geuks used until 1994.

Medal statistics

562 athletes from 31 countries, competed in 5 sports.  The Great Britaing team of 20 men and 1 woman won no medals.

Prominent British Paralympic athletes

  • Richard Burt - Richard first competed at the Tignes-Albertville 1992 Games and also competed at the Lillehammer 1994 Games. He won a bronze in the super-G and a silver in the giant slalom in 1992 and won bronze in both of these events in 1994. His best position at the Nagano 1998 Games was 5th in both the downhill and slalom.

Media coverage at the event

As the Games approached, the Japanese media picked up on the phenomenon of the Paralympic Movement and, as they had done for the Tokyo 1964 Summer Paralympics, began to report the event. As a result, the Japanese people were well informed before the Games opened and tickets were sold out in advance. 

Media interest in Paralympic winter sports was growing by the 1998 Games with 1,468 media representatives covering the events.

The closing ceremony

The closing ceremony took place in the M-Wave stadium, when the athletes, officials and dignitaries had entered, residents of Nagano performed Bangaku, a dance of joy. 

Starting in mid-January, through newspapers and the internet, the producer of the closing ceremony had called for people to make and donate origami cranes, traditional Japanese symbols of peace and the realisation of one’s prayers, to decorate the venue. The initial target of a million was quickly passed and the stadium was decorated with 7.5 million cranes from 350,000 groups and individuals.

The ceremony ended with singer, Susan Osborn, coming on stage with two children, singing the 'Sukiyaki Song', which tells the story of a man who looks up and whistles while he is walking so that his tears won't fall. The two children then extinguished the Paralympic flame completing the ceremony.

References

  • Ian Brittain, From Stoke Mandeville to Sochi: A History of The Summer And Winter Paralympic Games. Common Ground Publishing
  • Bailey, S., 2008, Athlete First: A history of the Paralympic Movement, John Wiley & Sons Ltd 
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1998_Winter_Paralympics
  • https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/watts-hope-n01640
  • http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sport/winter_olympics_98/61710.stm
  • https://architectureofthegames.net/1998-nagano/nagano-1998-m-wave/
  • https://www.shinmai.co.jp/feature/oly-eng/kaijo/bighat.htm
  • https://www.paralympic.org/nagano-1998/medals