The Differences Between The Olympics, Paralympics And Special Olympics

August 30, 2021 Blog, Featured

Treisman, Rachel. “The Differences between the Olympics, Paralympics and Special Olympics.” NPR, NPR, 24 Aug. 2021,

Fireworks are seen above the Olympic Stadium on August 24, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan, during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. Carl Court/Getty Images

What do the Paralympics have in common with the Olympic games? And what do either of them have to do with the Special Olympics?

Paralympic swimmer Anastasia Pagonis has the answers. The 17-year-old Long Island native has a whopping 2 million followers on TikTok, and uses her platform to educate others about visual impairment and Paralympic sport.

She breaks down some of the key differences between the Paralympics and Special Olympics here:


The Olympics and Paralympics exist side-by-side

The Olympics and Paralympics have different governing bodies but for decades have been held in tandem — in the same host city during the same year.

They really are parallel events: The word “Paralympic” includes the Greek preposition “para,” meaning “beside.”

In Paralympic sports, athletes are grouped together by “the degree of activity limitation” resulting from their impairment: Here’s more on that from the International Paralympic Committee.

The Paralympics and Special Olympics differ in three key ways

Meanwhile, the Special Olympics differ from the Paralympics in three main areas: the structure of their organizations, the disability categories of the athletes and the criteria and philosophy under which they participate.

The Special Olympics provides training and competition year-round, and holds World Games every two years (alternating with summer and winter events). The most recent Special Olympics World Games was held in Abu Dhabi in 2019, and the next are scheduled for 2022 in Kazan, Russia.

The Special Olympics welcomes all athletes with intellectual disabilities, of all ability levels, ages 8 and up. Paralympic athletes must fulfill certain criteria and meet qualifying standards in order to be eligible.

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