The Paralympic Games is a separate Olympic competition, dedicated for athletes with disabilities. The Paralympics take place shortly after every Olympics in the same host city. The Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games featured 20 competitions with a record setting 3,951 athletes from 146 nations and regions participating.
In order to participate in the Paralympics, athletes must meet strict standards set by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC). The level of the athletes' performance has continued to improve over the years and the number of qualified athletes has been steadily increasing. For example, in the Summer Games held in Athens, 448 Olympic records and 304 world records were set.
The history of the Paralympic Games dates back to 1948, when Sir Ludwig Guttmann, a physician working at a hospital in Stork Mandeville, England, organised an archery competition involving World War II veterans with spinal cord injuries as part of their rehabilitation programme. In 1952 the event became an international competition, and from the 1960 Games in Rome they have been held in the same host country as the Olympics. Since the 1988 Games in Seoul, they have been held shortly after the Olympics using the same venues and facilities.
Although in the beginning the Paralympics was designed for rehabilitation purposes, the event developed into a more elite sports competition. Athletes taking part in the games now represent not only those needing the aid of wheelchairs but a more diverse spectrum of disabilities, thus the term Paralympics is now interpreted as meaning "parallel Olympics" i.e. "the other Olympics.".
In the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games the IOC and IPC reached a basic agreement that the Paralympic Games will always take place shortly after the Olympic Games, reaffirming the cooperative relationship between the two organisations. The "parallel Olympics" lives up to its name and continues to develop.