Even before the Paralympics was first held in 1960, there were many athletes with a disability competing at the Olympics Games. The Paralympic Games has provided disabled athletes their own international stage to compete at the elite level. Some of these athletes have also been able to compete at the Olympic Games against able-bodied athletes, with many tasting success in both.
Some of the disabled athletes have the skill, despite their disability, to compete with the elite in their sport, while for some others they have competed in the Olympics Games, then had an accident or illness and returned to elite sport to compete as a disabled athlete at the Paralympics.
The athletes listed below do not include the Paralympic athletes who also participated in the exhibition wheelchair events at the Olympic Games between 1984 and 2004, nor in the disabled skiing at the Winter Olympic Games in 1984 and 1988. We have also not included a few Olympic athletes who have acted as guides or pilots for disabled athletes competing in the Paralympics.
Disabled athletes who have participated in the Summer Olympics and Paralympics
Neroli Fairhall (Paralympics 1972, 1980, 1988, 2000, Olympics 1984)
New Zealand athlete Neroli Fairhall was paralyzed from the waist down after a motorbike accident. She was able to compete in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games, shooting for New Zealand and finishing in 35th place. Her Paralympic career spanned from 1972 to 2000, first completing in athletics, but having success later on in archery. She was the first athlete to compete in both the Paralympics and Olympic Games.
Marla Runyan (Paralympics 1992 & 1996, Olympics 2000 & 2004)
Marla Runyan is a legally blind athlete from the USA, who won four gold medals at the 1992 Paralympics in sprints. She later became a successful middle-distance runner, coming eighth in the 1,500m in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, making her the first legally blind athlete to compete in the Olympics.
Natalie du Toit (Paralympics 2004-2012, Olympics 2008)
South African distance swimmer Natalie Du Toit had her left leg amputated at the knee after she was hit by a car when she was 17. She swims without the aid of a prosthetic limb. At the 2008 Olympic Games, she competed in the open water 10km swim, coming 16th. She has also competed in three Paralympic Games, in 2004, 2008 and 2012, winning a total of 13 gold medals.
Paola Fantato (Paralympics 1988-2004, Olympics 1996)
Italian archer Paola Fantato had been afflicted with polio when she was eight and was confined to a wheelchair. At the 1996 Olympic Games she placed 54th in the women's individual competition. In the same year she took gold in women's team and a bronze medal in women's individual at the Paralympics. She was the first athlete to compete in the Olympics and Paralympics in the same year. She also took part in five consecutive Paralympics, winning a total of eight medals, including five gold.
Sonia Vettenburg (Paralympics 1984 & 1988, Olympics 1992)
Belgian shooter Sonia Vettenburg, a wheelchair user, finished 37th at the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games in the women's 10-meter air pistol. She also competed at the 1984 and 1988 Summer Paralympics - in 1984 she won silver in the Air pistol integrated, and in 1988 winning gold in the Air pistol standing LSH2.
Assunta Legnante (Paralympics 2012 & 2016, Olympics 2008)
Italian Assunta Legnante is a visually impaired shot putter, born with congenital glaucoma in both eyes. She competed at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, but her vision deteriorated after that. She competed in the 2012 and 2016 Paralympics, winning the shot put.
Natalia Partyka (Paralympics 2000-2016, Olympics 2008-2020)
Natalia Partyka is a table tennis player from Poland, born without a right hand. She has had success at the Olympic Games, reaching the last 32 of the London 2012 Olympic women's table tennis. Her stellar Paralympic career spans 2000 to 2016. At her first appearance in 2000 was at age 11, becoming the world's youngest ever Paralympian. From 2004 to 2016, she won gold in the women's singles C10 event. She is competing in the same event in Tokyo 2020.
Oscar Pistorius (Paralympics 2004-2012, Olympics 2012)
South African Oscar Pistorius had both legs amputated below the knee when he was 11 months old, after being born without fibulas and with deformities of his feet. In 2012, he competed in the 400m and 4 x 400 m relay races at the 2012 Olympics, running on his carbon fiber prosthetic legs, becoming the first double amputee to take part in both the Olympics and Paralympics.
Pepo Puch (Paralympics 2012 & 2016, Olympics 2004)
Josef "Pepo" Puch is an Austrian equestrian with incomplete paraplegia due to an accident in 2008. Prior to his injury, he competed at the 2004 Summer Olympics for Croatia in the individual eventing, finishing 63rd. At the 2012 and 2016 Paralympics he won gold medals in equestrian.
Zahra Nemati (Paralympics 2012 & 2016, Olympics 2016)
The wheelchair-bound archer Zahra Nemati from Iran was paralyzed after a car accident as a teenager, leaving her with spinal injuries and paralysis of both legs. She first competed at the Paralympics in 2012, nine years after her accident, becoming the first woman from Iran to win a Paralympic gold medal. Then in 2016 she competed in both the Paralympic and Olympic Games. She was the flag bearer in the opening ceremony for Iran at the Rio Olympic Games.
Melissa Tapper (Paralympics 2012 -2020, Olympics 2016 & 2020)
Australian table tennis player Melissa 'Milly' Tapper was born with nerve damage in her right arm. She has competed at the Paralympics since 2012. In 2016 and 2021, she also represented Australia in table tennis at the Summer Olympic Games.
Athletes who have participated in the Summer Olympics, then after becoming disabled have participated in the Paralympics
Sandra Paović (Paralympics 2016, Olympics 2008)
Croatian table tennis player Sandra Paović was injured in a traffic accident in 2009, a year after competing in the 2008 Olympic Games singles and team competition. She returned to the Olympic arena, representing Croatia at the 2016 Paralympics in para table tennis and winning gold in the C6 singles competition.
Pál Szekeres (Paralympics 1992-2012, Olympics 1988)
Pál Szekeres is a fencer from Hungary, who won a bronze medal at the 1988 Summer Olympics, then was disabled in a bus accident, and went on to win three gold medals and three bronze in wheelchair fencing at the Paralympics. He was the first person ever to have won medals at both the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Ilke Wyludda (Paralympics 2012, Olympics 1992-2000)
German athlete Ilke Wyludda had to have her right leg amputated because of sepsis in 2011. This came about after a successful Olympic career from 1992 to 2000, her greatest achievement becoming the Olympic discus throw champion in 1996. After her illness, she returned to athletics and in 2012 she represented Germany at the London Paralympics.
Misty Thomas (Paralympics 2008, Olympics 1984)
Canadian basketballer Misty Thomas competed in the women's tournament at the 1984 Summer Olympics, then in 1985, Thomas suffered a knee injury requiring multiple knee operations. She took up wheelchair basketball, and represented Canada in that sport at the 2008 Paralympics
Athletes who have participated in the Winter Olympics and Paralympics
Orazio Fagone (Paralympics 2006 & 2010, Olympics 1988-1994)
Italian Orazio Fagone's leg was amputated after a motorcycle accident. Prior to this he had a successful Winter Olympic career as a short-track speed-skater from 1988 until 1994. After his accident, he took up sledge hockey, and represented Italy at the 2006 Winter Paralympics. He was the first disabled athlete to compete in both the Winter Olympics and the Winter Paralympics.
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Abebe Bikila (1969 Stoke Mandeville Games, Olympics 1960 & 1964)
The two-time winner of the Olympic Marathon, Ethiopian Abebe Bikila, became a paraplegic after a car accident in 1969. He was able to compete as an archer in the 1969 Stoke Mandeville Games (a precursor to the Paralympics). He was expected to compete in the 1972 Summer Paralympics, however the Ethiopian Archery team failed to arrive.
Brian McKeever (Paralympics 2010, Olympics 2002-2018)
Canadian cross-country skier and biathlete Brian McKeever began losing his vision due to Stargardt's disease at age 19. He went on to become the most decorated Paralympic cross-country skier ever, winning 13 gold medals and a total of 17 medals between 2002 and 2018. At the 2010 Winter Olympics, he was named in the Canadian team and was set to become the first athlete to compete in the Winter Paralympics and Winter Olympics in the same year. However, at the last minute he was replaced in the men's 50km cross-country race with another skier in better recent form.
Terence Parkin (Deaflympics 1997-2009, Olympics 2000 & 2004)
Deaf South African swimmer Terence Parkin competed at the Sumer Olympic Games in 2000 and 2004, his best performance winning the silver medal in 2000 in the 200m Breaststroke. He is also very successful at the Deaflympics, holding the record for the most number of medals ever with a total of 33.
- Paralympic Games Athletes
- Disabled athletes at the Olympic Games
- Comparison of Summer Olympics and Paralympics Sports
- Paralympic Games Trivia
- Classification Categories