Background to the Games

The USA were selected as the host country for the 1984 Olympics and it was announced in 1977 that they would be held in Los Angeles. However, the independent sports organisations for disabled athletes did not have any formal relationship with the 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. 

The bid was presented to the ISMGF Executive Committee by Mr Lipton (who was also Vice President of the ISMGF Executive Committee), at their meeting on the 24th June 1980 and at the ISMGF Council meeting on Tuesday 1st July 1980. It 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, 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. 

In October 1980, an NWAA paper explaining why they thought separate events for different disability groups would be the correct choice, was circulated to the participating nations. Their justifications included the following:

  • Despite the fact it was generally agreed that consolidating events would make the best use of resources as it would reduce the need to duplicate work and manpower, the NWAA believed it would not be cost efficient as different disability groups require different resources and equipment.
  • Other people believed that events like these contributed social benefits to the Paralympian’s rehabilitation but the NWAA believed that people do not experience these benefits simply from being forced to interact with one-another.
  • The NWAA wanted to benefit from association with older organisations such as the International Stoke Mandeville Games Federation.
  • By having separate events more athletes from each disability group would be able to compete as this was previously capped due to space constraints.
  • Having separate events would give each organisation more administrative freedom and the choice to run the Games in the best way for each disability group. 

Having contacted over 200 possible sites the NWAA settled on a short list of 8. Amongst those was an offer from the University of Illinois which had a long tradition in wheelchair sports. However, in a letter dated 23rd October 1980, they stated that they would not be involved in fundraising and would not accept any debts as a result of hosting the Games. The Chancellor of the University of Illinois, John Cribbet, officially accepted the invitation to host the Games on 8th December 1981. 

Then, only four months before the Paralympic Games were scheduled to start, the University of Illinois withdrew their offer because they had not received proof that sufficient funding would be available. 

Stoke Mandeville offered to step in as they already had a sports stadium and Olympic Village, which, when trying to raise funds to build them, Dr Guttmann had said,

there will be a sports stadium and an Olympic Village, so that the disabled athletes of the world will always have their own Olympic facilities here at Stoke Mandeville when other doors are closed to them. 

The move to Stoke Mandeville was finally agreed in March 1984. 

Officially the VIIth World Wheelchair Games, they also became known as the ‘last-minute Paralympics’. Read more about this and full interviews with Keith Delderfield (Stadium Assistant Manager), Douglas Joss (Volunteer Organiser) and Robert King (Stadium Manager).

The other impairment groups combined and chose New York as their venue, hence athletes who were amputees, blind or visually impaired, or suffering from Cerebral Palsy, did not compete in Stoke Mandeville.

Find out all about the New York 1984 Paralympic Games here.

The build-up to the Games

With only a few months to the Games, the British Paraplegic Sports Society (BPSS) set a fundraising target of £420,000.

The media played an important part in the fundraising efforts. A BBC interview with Joan Scruton, Secretary General of the BPSS, in which she emphasised that Britain had to succeed where the USA had failed, apparently was seen by a Director from American corporation United Technologies, and led to a subsidiary, OTIS Elevator PLC, making a donation of £53,000, which was used to build specialist facilities at the Ludwig Guttmann Sports Centre. £66,000 was raised by a German television campaign.

A grant of £20,000 from The Sports Council was used to improve the sports field. 

Invacare/Carters, a wheelchair manufacturer, were another major sponsor, but it was the public response through organisations such as the Round Table, Rotary and others, companies and individuals that really came to the rescue of the Games. 

At the start of the Games there was a £50,000 shortfall, but shortly after the Games ended the target was reached. 

Due to the last minute change to Stoke Mandeville as a venue, there were many logistical challenges that had to be overcome in a short amount of time but many organisations were happy to offer their services and get into the Paralympic spirit:

  • Heathrow airport allowed staff to work for free in an office onsite to oversee all the teams that were flying in to the Games.
  • IBM donated computers and operators for scoring.
  • BT installed miles of additional telephone wires and their engineers volunteered to wire everything up.
  • The organisers of Wimbledon, which had just finished, donated their courtesy cars.
  • Twelve Leicester city buses were purchased to be used as competitor transport after their seats were removed.

Logo

The organisers of the Games held at Stoke Mandeville reverted to using the original logo from the Stoke Mandeville Games in the mid-1950s. As these Games were only for athletes with spinal cord injuries the organisers were able to attach the term Paralympic to the Games as its’ original meaning was ‘paraplegic Olympics’.

Poster

©Ian Brittain

Changes to Events

The wheelchair marathon was the only event added to the Stoke Mandeville Games and 78 athletes competed.

Venues

  • Stoke Mandeville Sports Stadium
    Opening and closing ceremonies, athletics, lawn bowls, shooting, snooker, wheelchair basketball.
  • Aylesbury Civic Centre
    Table tennis, weightlifting.
  • Aylesbury Grammar School
    Wheelchair fencing.
  • Grange School, Aylesbury
    Archery.
  • High Wycombe Sports Centre
    Swimming.

The Paralympic Flame

Terry Willett, fencing competitor, wheeled in the Olympic flame, which came from the Los Angeles Olympic Games. His specially adapted wheelchair had been made by three apprentices from the nearby Aylesbury Vale Industrial Training Centre. 

See and hear an interview with Terry about designing the wheelchair to carry the flame and lighting it here.

The opening ceremony

Tony Sainsbury, Team Manager, leading the British team at the opening ceremony of the 1984 Stoke Mandeville Games

Team Manager, Tony Sainsbury leads out the British team at the opening ceremony ©Ian Brittain. 

The Stoke Mandeville Games were opened on the 22nd July by HRH Prince Charles, who arrived by helicopter. After the welcoming speech was given by Dr Jackson, Prince Charles was presented with a gift of winners’ medals. The national anthem was played and the Games flag was raised before the flame in Stoke Mandeville was lit by Terry Willet. 

Monochrome picture of Prince Charles at the Stadium with Douglas Joss

John Harris was chosen to read the athletes Oath and recounts the following:

It was a fantastic honour, only one competitor from the host team gets to do it at the opening ceremony and I was picked. I am not still not quite sure why – possibly because I was Welsh and the Games were opened by the Prince of Wales. Maybe I had just achieved a certain ‘notoriety’ within the British team as a loud-mouthed Welshman. Anyway, I got to do it. They gave it me on a sheet of paper and I had learnt it by heart in a couple of hours.  There I was wheeling myself up to the stage to make the oath in front of the crowd and I still had the sheet of paper on my lap. I remember thinking, ‘I don’t need this’ and crumpling it up and throwing it away and then I went up and delivered it word perfect.

It was announced that 1000 peace doves were released at the opening ceremony but due to the short notice it was actually racing pigeons that were released. 

You can watch the IPC film 'Remembering the 1984 Stoke Mandeville Paralympic Games' here

During the Games

I had been to Champaign, Illinois earlier in the year as part of the planning process. The facilities there were absolutely world class. There were 66,000 resident students (the university site was a small town in its own right) and people went there on athletics scholarships. The basketball stadium seated 35,000 people; the athletics stadium could fit 70,000; their track had ten lanes whereas ours at Stoke only had six. How were we going to match all that?

Keith Delderfield, Assistant Manager at the Stadium

1984 Stoke Mandeville Games track

The Olympic Village at Stoke Mandeville was not large enough to house the 1,500 wheelchair athletes and officials that were due to take part in the Games.

As a result, many of the teams had to split up and sleep wherever room could be found: 

  • The Japanese team were accommodated at Mandeville School.
  • The Israeli team at the local agricultural college.
  • The American team at RAF Halton. 

Many of the smaller teams ended up staying in spare rooms of local people’s homes with their coaches camping in the garden. 

Not all of the events at Stoke Mandeville went as smoothly as everyone had hoped. British wheelchair athlete, Josie Cichockyj, competed in the marathon and was awarded a bronze medal for coming third, however after the medal ceremony it was discovered that an error had been made and Cichockyj was made to give the medal back.

The Medals

Bronze medal from the 1984 Stoke Mandeville Games Bronze medal from the 1984 Stoke Mandeville 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 Stoke Mandeville Games medals had the world map with wheelchair spokes on one side and three interconnected wheel logo on the other which represented their three values of friendship, unity and sportsmanship.

Medal statistics

The 1984 Paralympic Summer Games 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

Black and white photo of the 1984 GB Paralympic Team at Stoke Mandeville.

The GB Paralympic team at the 1984 Stoke Mandeville Summer Games

  • The highest scoring British athlete at Stoke Mandeville was Isabel Barr (nee Newstead) who was a 1B class tetraplegic who competed in 3 different sports. In shooting she won a gold medal and in athletic throwing events she won two silver medals. Swimming, however, was where she excelled as she won three gold, one silver and two bronze medals, bringing her medal total up to 9! Read more about her achievements here
  • Dorothy Ripley won the first British medal of the Games, a gold in the Women's Shot Put 3, setting a new world record after scoring an impressive 7.19 meters. Dorothy also won silver medals in Women's Discus Throw 3 and Women's Javelin 3. Below is film footage showing Dorothy Ripley winning gold and the world record in the women's shot put.

  • Mike Kenny, also a tetraplegic, was very successful at Stoke Mandeville winning 5 gold medals and 1 silver medal from individual swimming events and an additional silver medal from the team relay.
    Find out how Mike got in to swimming here.
  • Kenneth Cairns won 4 gold medals and 1 silver in individual swimming events and also shared in the silver relay medal that Mike Kenny won.

The closing ceremony

The closing ceremony was held at the Stoke Mandeville Stadium track on the 1st of August. Up to six athletes from each team, and their team manager, entered the stadium behind a placard with the country’s name, when they had lined up the other members of the teams took position behind them. 

The winning basketball teams were then presented with their medals and the first ever Sir Ludwig Guttmann Award were presented to an athlete, Dr Rosa Schweizer of Austria, and an administrator, Joan Scruton, Secretary General of ISMGF, for outstanding contributions to sport for the spinally paralysed. 

Dr Jackson declared the Games closed and the Olympic flame was extinguished. The flags of each competing nation were lowered and the Paralympic flag was also lowered and handed to Kim Hyong Shik who was representing Korea as hosts of the next Games. 

The ceremony ended with the singing of the national anthem and Auld Lang Syne.

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