Disabled Olympic Participants

There are international sporting events for athletes with disabilities such as the Paralympics and Deaflympics, however there are plenty of examples of athletes with disabilities competing at the world's premier international sporting competition, the Olympic Games.

You may be surprised to see such a long list below of athletes with disabilities competing alongside the able-bodied athletes at the Olympic Games. A recent and high profile example is South African sprinter and double amputee Oscar Pistorius who has had success previously at the Paralympics, though in 2012 he made the South African Olympic team and competed against the able-bodied athletes in the 400m and 4x400m relay.

Below are many examples of athletes with disabilities who have participated at the Olympic Games.

George Eyser (1904)

American gymnast George Eyser won three gold medals for the vault, parallel bars and rope climbing in 1904, competing wearing a wooden leg. He also won two silvers and one bronze. He lost his leg when he was a kid in a train accident. He was the only person with an artificial leg to have competed at the Olympic Games until swimmer Natalie du Toit in Beijing 2008.

Oskar Wetzell (1908, 1912)

Wetzell became deaf after being confronted with influenza when he was just two years old. He competed in diving for Finland at the 1908 and 1912 Olympics.s

Carlo Orlandi (1928)

Carlo Orlandi was an Italian boxer who competed in the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam, and was also a deaf-mute. He won the gold medal in the lightweight class. 

Donald Gollan (1928)

UK rower Donald Gollan won a silver medal as a member of the rowing eights in 1928. He was deaf and mute.

Oliver Halassy (1928, 1932, 1936)

The Hungarian Oliver Halassy won silver in water polo at the 1928 Games and gold in 1932 and 1936. He won despite missing his left leg that had been amputated below the knee following a childhood streetcar accident.

Károly Takács (1948, 1952, 1956)

Hungarian shooter Károly Takács was a world-class pistol shooter, though was prevented from taking part in the 1936 Olympics because of his low military rank. He was on target to compete in 1940, but during army training in 1938 his right hand (and shooting hand) was badly injured when a faulty grenade exploded. Undaunted, he started training with his left hand, and won the national championship the following year. He had to wait until 1948 for the Olympics to resume, where he won the gold medal in the 25m rapid fire pistol, then repeated that effort in 1952.

Lis Hartel (1952, 1956)

Danish equestrian athlete Lis Hartel was paralysed below the knees as a result of polio and required assistance on and off her horse. She became the first woman in equestrian sports to win an Olympic medal when she won silver medals at the 1952 and 1956 Summer Olympics in dressage.

Harold V. Connolly (1956, 1960, 1964, 1968)

US athlete Connolly won the gold medal at the 1956 Olympic Games in hammer throwing which was remarkable as he had Erbs Palsy, which meant his deformed left arm was 4.5 inches shorter than his right arm, and his left hand was two-thirds smaller than his right hand. He also finished eighth in 1960, sixth in 1964 and did not qualify for the final in 1968.

Ildikó Újlaky-Rejtő (1960, 1964, 1968, 1972, 1976)

Deaf Hungarian female fencer Ildikó Újlaky-Rejtő won two individual medals (a gold and a bronze) and five team medals during an Olympic career spanning from 1960 until 1976.

Jeffrey Float (1984)

Jeffrey Float was a swimmer who represented the USA at the 1984 Olympics. He was 90% deaf in his right ear and 65% in his left. He won a gold medal in the 4x200m freestyle and finished fourth in the 200m individual freestyle. He had also qualified for the 1980 Moscow Olympic Swimming Team which was boycotted by the US.

Neroli Fairhall (1984)

New Zealand archer Neroli Fairhall was the first athlete to compete in both the Paralympics (1980) and Olympic Games (1984). She was paralysed from the waist down and competed in a wheelchair.

Sonia Vettenburg (1992)

Previously winning medals at the 1984 and 1988 Paralympic Games, Belgium Shooter Vettenburg finished 37th at the Barcelona Olympic Games in the women's 10 meter air pistol.

Paola Fantato (1996)

Italian archer Paola Fantato also competed in both the Paralympics and Olympic Games. She was born with polio. She had a very successful paralympic career from 1988 to 2004, though she made just one appearance at the Olympic Games, in 1996.

Terence Parkin (2000, 2004)

Deaf South African swimmer Terence Parkin won silver in the 200m breaststroke at the Sydney 2000 Olympics, and also competed at the 2004 Games in Athens.

Marla Runyan (2000, 2004)

Visually impaired runner Marla Runyan from the USA (she is legally blind) competed at the 1992 and 1996 Paralympics, and then at the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games. In Sydney 2000 she finished eighth in the 1,500m.

Frank Bartolillo (2004)

Australian Frank Bartolillo is profoundly deaf, and competed in fencing at the Athens 2004 Olympics. He competed in the individual foil event. He claimed that being deaf was an advantage as it enabled him to better concentrate.

Im Dong-Hyun (2004, 2008, 2012)

South Korean archer Im Dong-Hyun has 20/200 vision in his left eye and 20/100 vision in his right eye, meaning he is legally blind in his left eye. He won Olympic gold in the team competition in 2004 and 2008, and bronze in 2012.

Tamika Catchings (2004, 2008, 2012, 2016)

Catchings was born with a hearing impairment and wore a hearing aid as a young girl. She played in the US women's basketball team which won four Olympic gold medals - 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016.

Natalie du Toit (2008)

In 2008, South African amputee Natalie du Toit competed in the open water 10km swim, in which she came 16th. Her left leg was amputated at the knee after she was hit by a car when she was 17. She swims without the aid of a prosthetic limb. She carried the flag at the 2008 Summer Olympics opening ceremony, making her the first athlete to carry a flag in both the Olympics and Paralympics in a single year.

Natalia Partyka (2008, 2012)

Polish table tennis player Natalia Partyka was one of two athletes to compete at the 2008 Summer Paralympics and Olympics in Beijing (the other was Natalie du Toit). Partyka was born without a right hand and forearm.

Chris Colwill (2008, 2012)

Chris Colwill, who has a 65% hearing loss, is a diver from the USA. Colwill is not able to wear his hearing aid when he dives, so he can’t hear the whistle that signals to the divers when they can go. Therefore the referees nod to him in addition to the whistle so that he can recognize the signal. He says it can be an advantage not to be able to hear during competitions because then he isn’t distracted by noises.

David Smith (2012)

David Smith is part of the USA volleyball team at the 2012 London Olympics. Smith has been deaf since birth, having 80-90% hearing loss, and has worn hearing aids since he was three years old.

Oscar Pistorius (2012)

South African Oscar Pistorius (aka the 'Blade Runner'), became the first double amputee to take part in both the Olympics and Paralympics. He competed in the 400m and 4 x 400 m relay races at the 2012 Olympics, running on his carbon-fiber prosthetic legs. He had both legs amputated below the knee when he was 11 months old, after being born without fibulas and with deformities of his feet. See profile

Zahra Nemati (2016)

The flag bearer in the opening ceremony for Iran at the Rio Olympic Games was archer Zahra Nemati. She was making her Olympic Games debut, though four years earlier she became the first woman from Iran to win a Paralympic gold medal. The wheelchair-bound Nemati was paralyzed after a car accident as a teenager.

Melissa 'Milly' Tapper (2016, 2021)

In Rio 2016, 26-year-old table tennis player Melissa 'Milly' Tapper became the first Australian athlete to compete in both the Olympics and Paralympics. She was born with nerve damage in her right arm, and competed at the London Paralympics. She returned to the Olympics stage and again competed in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

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