Amputee Athletes & the Olympics

2012 Olympic Blade Runner Gives Boost to Other Amputee Athletes with Olympic Dreams

The Games of the XXXI Olympiad, also known as the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, officially opened Friday, August 5, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  During the last Summer Olympics held in London in 2012, one of the best told stories was that of Oscar Pistorius, an amputee runner from South Africa.

Pistorius became the first amputee runner to compete in the Olympic Games.  He ran the 400 meter race and the 4 x 400 meter relay.  Although he did not win an Olympic medal, he competed with some of the world’s fastest able-bodied runners and made huge strides in the quest for amputee athletes to compete in the Olympics.

His feat garnered him much international attention throughout the Olympic Games, with many media outlets referring to him as the Blade Runner.  Sadly, upon his return to South Africa, Pistorius gained media attention again when he was arrested, tried and found guilty for shooting and killing South African model Reeva Steenkamp.  Despite the unfortunate turn of events, there is no doubt that Pistorius made a major impact on athletics and the Olympics.

Although, disabled athletes competing at the Olympic level is nothing new, Pistorius had to overcome hurdles to be able to compete with his prosthetics.  He first had to undergo trials to prove that his prosthetics did not give him an advantage over able-bodied runners.  Initial tests said that there was a decided advantage to running on his carbon fiber running prosthetics.  However, after an appeal, it was determined that not enough factors had been tested and found that there was no decided advantage.  Missing the Olympic team in 2008, Pistorius was named to the 2012 South African Olympic team where he made history as the first double amputee runner to compete in the Olympic Games.

Paving the way for future Olympians, Pistorius now makes way for Germany’s Markus Rehm.  Rehm is a single amputee long jumper who uses a similar blade to compete and won the Gold Medal at the 2012 Paralympic Games.  Rehm had been hoping to become the second athlete with a prosthesis to compete in an Olympics.  Unfortunately for Rehm, he has fallen short for 2016.  IAAF rules state that the prosthesis does not give an athlete an advantage.  And so far, the evidence is not in his favor.  Not giving up, Rehm plans to work with the IAAF on a rule change that would allow him to compete.

The Olympic motto is Faster, Higher, Stronger.  Amputee athletes with Olympics dreams certainly live up to this motto in every way.

Disabled Olympians who competed in Olympic Games  (from

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.

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 at 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 the 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 the 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 finishing eighth in 1960, sixth in 1964 and did not qualifying 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 made just the one appearance at the Olympic Games, in 1996.

Italian archer Paola Fantato was the first athlete to compete in the Olympics and 0aralympics in the same year, when she took part in both Games at Atlanta in 1996. Fantato had been afflicted with polio when she was eight and was confined to a wheelchair. At Atlanta she placed 54th in the women’s individual competition in the Olympics but took a bronze medal in women’s individual and a gold in women’s team at the 0aralympics She took part in five consecutive 0aralympics, winning a total of eight medals, including five gold.

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.

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 Olympics and Paralympics in a single year.

Natalia Partyka (2008, 2012)

Polish table tennis player Natalia Partyka was one of two athetes 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Melissa ‘Milly’ Tapper

In Rio 2016, 26-year-old table tennis player Melissa ‘Milly’ Tapper will become 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.


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