Background to the Games

The USA were the host country for 1984 Olympics and it was announced in 1977 that the 1984 Olympic Games were to be held in Los Angeles. However, the independent sports organisations for disabled athletes did not have any formal relationship with Olympic Committees,  so it did not naturally follow that the Paralympic Games would also be held there. 

In 1980, Ben Lipton, Chairman of the American National Wheelchair Athletics Association (NWAA), persuaded the organisation to bid for a competition that would only be open to athletes eligible under International Stoke Mandeville Games Federation (ISMGF) rules, on the basis that a Games involving other disability groups would be almost impossible to organise in the USA. Their bid included a commitment to make every effort to organise a Games for the other disability groups, in a different location, at around the same time.

Although many of those present at the ISMGF Executive Committee and ISMGF Council meetings where the bid was discussed, who represented sport for all disability groups in their countries, would have preferred a single Games, the Chairman reminded them that the ISMGF was only responsible for the paraplegic Games. 

Despite many questions and criticisms, approval to find a location only for ISMGF athletes was given. 

Ben Lipton approached Francis T. Purcell, a long-standing friend and, then, Nassau County Executive asking if Nassau County would host the Games for amputee, blind & visually impaired, cerebral palsied and Les Autres athletes. Purcell agreed and preparations for these Games began in the autumn of 1982 when Mike Mushett was employed as Games Director. 

The New York Games were set to run from 17th - 29th June and the Stoke Mandeville Games from 22nd July - 1st August. 

Find out why the wheelchair Games were moved from Illinois to Stoke Mandeville at the last minute here.

The build-up to the Games

Fundraising remained a major issue, with the cost estimated at $8 million. More than 80 percent was expected to come from the Federal, state and county governments, with Congress expected to allocate $850,000, New York State $550,000 and Nassau County $500,000, plus $3-4 million for security expenses. The remainder having to be raised through corporate gifts, non-profit groups and other donors.

Thousands volunteered to help and, while this placed a significant burden on the experienced technical experts, they provided the support necessary for the extensive competitive programme. 

On the 6th June, the Soviet Union withdrew, Boris Zimim, Vice President of the Soviet athletic team in Moscow sending a telegram which said 'USSR blind athletes team will not participate in 1984 Games for Disabled on Long Island. Please refund entry fee'. There was no further explanation. 

Logo

Logo of the 1984 New York Paralympic Summer Games

The logo for the New York Games was a flaming torch.

Poster

©Ian Brittain

Changes to Events

The impairment group, Les Autres, were included in the Games for the first time. Literally translated as ‘the others’, this group includes motor disabilities such as muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, arthrogryposis, Friedrich’s ataxia and arthritis and athletes with restricted height.

Wheelchair cycling, powerlifting and 7-a-side football for Cerebral Palsy athletes appeared for the first time and snooker was reintroduced after it stopped being included in 1976. Boccia was also introduced to the Paralympic Games for the first time and 19 athletes represented five different countries in the competition. 

Venues

  • Mitchel Park
    Named after a former Mayor of New York City, the development on the former military base, Mitchel Field, began in 1982.
    The opening and closing ceremonies, archery, athletics, 7-a-side football, shooting.
  • Caumsett State Park
    Equestrian.
  • Eisenhower Park
    Cross country, cycling, lawn bowls.
  • Hofstra University
    Swimming, table tennis.
  • Nassua Community College
    Boccia, wrestling, goalball, powerlifting, sitting and standing volleyball.

MascotMascot for the 1984 New York and Stoke Mandeville Paralympic Summer Games

©Ian Brittain

The New York Games mascot was drawn in red pen by Maryanne McGrath Higgins who was an art teacher at The Lawrence, Long Island Junior High School. Pupils at the Human Resources School in Albertson, Long Island took on the challenge of providing a name and after a very close competition he was named Dan D. Lion.

The Paralympic Flame

The Paralympic flame in New York was lit by a torch from the Los Angeles Olympic Games. This demonstrated the growing links between the Olympics and Paralympics when, for the first time, Keven Lewis, Director of Wheelchair Sports for the Los Angeles Olympic Organising Committee (LAOOC) presented the Games Director, Mike Mushett, with a torch used in the Los Angeles Olympic Games for use in the opening ceremony. 

At the opening ceremony the flame was lit by Jan Wilson (Amputee), Kevin Stark (Blind), Margo Maddox (Cerebral Palsy) and William Lehr (Les Autres).

The opening ceremony

It is estimated over 14,000 spectators attended the New York Games opening ceremony at the Mitchell Park Stadium on 17th June. 

After a short speech of welcome, Master of Ceremonies William B. Williams, a New York radio personality, introduced the entertainers, Bill Buzzeo and the Dixie Ramblers, Richie Havens, The New Image Drum and Bugle Corps, the ARC Gospel Chorus and the Square Dance Extravaganza. The entertainment was followed by speeches from Francis Purcell, the Nassau County Executive, and others. 

President Ronald Reagan, who arrived by helicopter, entered the stadium to All Hail the Chief played by the All American Concert Band. The Netherlands, as hosts of the 1980 Paralympic Games, led the parade of countries, each country being preceded by local Boy and Girl Scouts carrying the name. 

After a greeting from Cathy Lee Crosby, Official Hostess for the Games, there were short speeches from Commander Archie Cameron, President of the new International Coordinating Committee of Sports for the Disabled (ICC), US Senator Alphonse D’Amato and New York State Governor Mario Cuomo. 

The flags of the Olympic and United States Olympic Committees were raised, the first time this had happened, followed by the Games flag and those of the International Sports Organisation for the Disabled (ISOD) and ISMGF. 

The Los Angeles Olympic Torch given to the Games was carried in to the stadium and handed over to President Reagan by Master Timmy Towers, who had carried it on its journey through New York City. The President passed the torch to Jan Wilson who took it to the stand where it would remain for the duration of the Games, where she was joined by Kevin Stark, Margo Maddox and William Lehr. 

The athletes’ oath was taken by Olavur Kongsbak, a swimmer from the Faroe Islands and the officals’, by Jack Abramson, swimming co-ordinator. 

President Reagan officially welcomed the Games on behalf of the USA and declared them open. 

You can watch the IPC film 'Remembering the New York 1984 Paralympic Games' here

During the Games

Team GB at the New York Games 1984

Team GB at the 1984 New York Games

The athletes and staff stayed in Hofstra University accommodation which was largely accessible and adjacent to Mitchel Park. 

Classification was, unsurprisingly, complicated and the inclusion of Les Autres proved useful as a number of athletes in the Cerebral Palsy International Sports and Recreation Association (CP-ISRA) events who were deemed ineligible were able to be moved to the Les Autres classification. 

While the official commemorative book, 'The Road to Glory', unsurprisingly, describes a very successful, well run event, a number of other sources tell a somewhat different story.

  • The venue allocated for women’s goalball was unsuitable as it had floor tiles not a wooden playing surface. This led to the competition being relocated to facility allocated for the men’s event and a rescheduling of both competitions.
  • The table tennis tables appeared damaged and the playing venue overheated and had significant draughts.
  • The schedule has been described as rigid and unimaginative with different disability groups competing in swimming and athletics on different days.

Odeda Rosenthal, a Professor of Humanities at a local Community College on Long Island, who acted as Liaison-Translator for the Austrian Team at the Games, wrote a series of articles highlighting many issues. These included poor communication, volunteer bus drivers who did not know the route to events and scheduling that resulted in some competitors missing their events. She also claimed that, in the lead up to the Games, the Director of Media, Hank McCann delivered very little in the way of press or TV coverage and advertising and that there had been no attempt to generate interest. Many photographs show empty stands, indicative of low attendance and Rosenthal claims tickets which started at $20 by the end of the first week to $3, with spectators being bussed in at special rates in an attempt to fill them. 

Some of these claims seem to be borne out by articles in Newsday, a local newspaper, which report organisational confusion on the first day of competition and poor attendance. 

It seems that the original estimate was for 250,000 spectators but by the end of the second week this had been revised and was not expected to reach 75,000. Hank McCann, Director of Media, is reported as saying ‘It’s quite basic…the general public believes it cannot handle watching disabled people do anything’.  

Ian Brittain’s research has shown 'that many medals were awarded for events that don’t appear in the official results and so some athletes will never take their rightful place in Paralympic history.'

Despite the issues, many reported an overall impression of a friendly atmosphere, with volunteers and staff doing their best to make the Games memorable under difficult circumstances.

The Medals

Bronze medals from the 1984 New York Games

©Ian Brittain

For the first time, different medals were given out for gold, silver and bronze place rather than one type of medal for all places. 

The New York Games medal had the Paralympic flame on one side and an outline of the USA on the other.

Medal statistics

The Paralympic Summer Games in 1984 were shared between New York and Stoke Mandeville. In total 2105 athletes from 54 countries, competed in 975 events in 18 sports.  The GB team of 156 men and 68 women won a total of 107 Gold, 112 Silver and 112 Bronze medals.

Prominent British Paralympic athletes

  • In New York, Britain’s top performer was Robin Surgeoner, a swimmer with cerebral palsy, who managed to win four individual gold medals in the Men's 50m Backstroke C4, Men's 100m Freestyle C4, Men's 200m Freestyle C4 and Men's 50m Freestyle C4 and was part of the relay team who won gold in the Men's 4x50m Freestyle Relay C1-C8. Despite swimming being his specialty, he also competed in the javelin event and came fifth.
  • Bob Matthews, a blind British athlete, and his guide, Colin White, managed to set three world records in the 800m, 1500m and 5000m Men’s B1 events. This feat is even more amazing considering that in the 5000m White’s shoe began to come loose in the third lap, due to another athlete accidentally stepping on the back of it, and had completely fallen off by the last lap. Read more about Bob here.
  • Colin Keay, a CP athlete, won gold in Men's Cross Country 1000m C6, Men's 400m C6 and Men's 60m C6.
  • The best female athlete was Brenda Woodcock who won three gold medals in the Women's 200m C8, Women's 400m C8, Women's Cross Country 1000m C8 events and a bronze in Women's 50m Freestyle C8.
  • Anne Swann, a CP athlete, won gold in Women's Shot Put C2, Women's Medicine Ball Thrust C2, Women's Distance Throw C2, she also competed in the Women's 25m Freestyle with Aids C2.
  • Aileen Harper, a CP athlete, won gold in Women's 60m C3, Women's Slalom C3, and Women's Club Throw C3.
  • Kim White, a Les Autres athlete, won gold in Women's Shot Put L3, Women's Discus Throw L3 and Women's Javelin L3.

Media coverage at the event

During the New York Games, the media coverage was the most extensive in Paralympic history. All major US television networks and newspapers sent representatives to report on the Games which were also attended by the BBC, Dutch TV, West German TV and Swedish radio and TV.

The closing ceremony

The closing events at New York, held at Mitchell Park track, began with qualifying events for the men’s 1500m and women’s 800m wheelchair races in preparation for the 1984 Stoke Mandeville Games the next month. 

The closing ceremony began with an honour guard of 75 Nassau County police officers taking up position at the entrance to the track. The County Police Bag Pipers marched in followed by placard bearers carrying the names of each country and each country’s representative flag bearer. The athletes came in to the stadium, all the nations mixed together, to the sound of ‘March of the Nobles’ played by the Symphony for United Nations. 

After a speech by Mike Mushett, Games Director, Mr Gee Woo Lee from Seoul then read out an invitation to the athletes to compete in the 1988 Games, which were to be held in Korea. 

Commander Archie Cameron, President of the ICC, officially closed the Games, saying

I declare the Third International Games for the Disabled closed and I call upon all disabled athletes of all countries to assemble four years from now in Seoul, South Korea to celebrate with us the Fourth International Games for the Disabled. 

The flags were lowered and handed over to Dr William T. Callahan, President of the Games Executive Board, who handed them to Mr Gee Woo Lee, President of the Seoul delegation. 

The lights in the stadium were then turned off and the Paralympic flame was extinguished. Spectators each held a light stick as they watched a huge firework display over the stadium.

References

  • Ian Brittain: From Stoke Mandeville to Sochi: A history of the summer and winter Paralympic Games, Common Ground Publishing.
  • http://www.mandevillelegacy.org.uk/page_id__40_path__0p4p14p22p.aspx
  • https://www.paralympic.org/stoke-mandeville-new-york-1984
  • https://www.paralympic.org/stoke-mandeville-new-york-1984/mascot
  • http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/paralympics/2008-08/29/content_6981820.htm
  • https://www.insidethegames.biz/articles/1010785/1984-stoke-mandeville-and-new-york
  • https://www.paralympic.org/stoke-mandeville-new-york-1984/medals
  • http://www.mandevillelegacy.org.uk/page_id__36.aspx?path=0p4p14p22p
  • https://www.channel4.com/news/paralympic-archive-last-minute-games-1984
  • https://tokyo2020.org/en/games/sport/paralympic/boccia/
  • https://www.topendsports.com/events/paralympics/sports/index.htm
  • https://www.nytimes.com/1982/02/28/nyregion/new-era-dawns-at-mitchel-field.html
  • https://www.nytimes.com/1984/06/16/nyregion/1800-athletes-gather-on-li-for-international-games-for-disabled.html
  • https://www.upi.com/Archives/1984/06/06/Soviets-pull-out-of-handcapped-games/2977455342400/