Have you been glued to your TV set to watch the Olympic Games, and again this week to watch the 16th Paralympic Games?

The modern Olympic movement was formed in 1894, with the first Olympic Games being held in Athens in 1896. Olympic Games have been held almost every 4 years since. The second was at Paris in 1900, when women first took part. The 1904 Olympics were in the USA, when not many attended so another games was held at Athens in 1906. Events have changed over the years. For example, live pigeon shooting and tug-of-war are no longer included.

1908 London Olympics

The 1908 Olympics were originally meant to be held in Rome, but Italy withdrew after Mount Vesuvius erupted in 1906. William Grenfell the Lord Desborough, who lived at Taplow Court in south Bucks, was a great all-round sportsman. He had won a silver medal for fencing team épée at the 1906 Games. At various times he had been Steward of the Henley Royal Regatta, President of organisations like the Oxford University Boat Club, the Amateur Fencing Association, Marylebone Cricket Club, the Lawn Tennis Association and the Royal Lifesaving Association. Amongst his other achievements, he had climbed the Matterhorn 3 times, and had rowed across the English Channel. When the British Olympic Association was formed in 1905 he became its chairman, and he helped to bring the 1908 Olympic Games to London.

Bucks Gold Medal Winners

Buckinghamshire has not produced many Olympic champions but the local gold medal winners include:

Tony Nash

The Winter Olympics started in 1924. Probably the only Bucks Winter Olympic champion is Tony Nash, who was born in Amersham and lived at Little Missenden. He was a Director of the engineering company of T. and A. Nash (Penn) Ltd. He largely financed his own personal dream to win an Olympic gold medal. He and his brakeman Captain Robin Dixon, narrowly won the two-man bobsleigh in the 1964 Winter Olympics held at Innsbruck in Austria. It was Britain’s first winter Olympic gold since 1952.

Sir Steve Redgrave

The most successful Bucks Olympian is Steve Redgrave of Marlow. He won gold medals for rowing at 5 consecutive Olympic Games from 1984 to 2000. He was knighted by the Queen in 2001 and there is a statue to him in Higginson Park in Marlow, which was unveiled by the Queen in 2002.

Naomi Riches

In 2012, to celebrate the success of the Olympic athletes, the Royal Mail painted one of their otherwise red post-boxes gold in the hometown of every Olympic gold medallist. One is in the High Street, Marlow for Naomi Riches, the paralympian rowing gold medallist. The rowing events took place between 31 August and 2 September at Eton Dorney.

Naomi has an eyesight condition which means she also has no depth perception. This means she cannot judge the speed of moving objects and so is registered as blind. Despite this, not only does Naomi hold the Paralympic gold medal in the mixed coxed four event but she is also the only woman to have rowed the entirety of the navigable Thames.

There is another special golden postbox in Stoke Mandeville as the home of the Paralympics.

Paralympic Games

These games were developed by Dr Ludwig Guttman. He was a Jewish German refugee who came to England to flee Nazi persecution. In early 1939 an opportunity for him to escape came when he was ordered by the Nazis to go to Portugal to treat a friend of the Portugese dictator Salazar. He was provided with a visa for himself and his wife and two children.

Their return journey to Germany was via London, arriving here on March 14, 1939. Prior arrangements had been made for the family to stay in England, with £250 (equivalent to over £16,000 today) given to help them settle in Oxford. There Dr Guttman was offered a position at the Radcliffe Infirmary.

In 1943 he came to work at the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital. Here he developed participation in sport as a way of therapy for rehabilitating people with injuries, to build up physical strength and self-respect.

On July 29 1948, the day the Olympic Games opened in London, he organised the first “Stoke Mandeville Games” for the disabled on the lawns of the hospital. These involved just 16 paralysed servicemen and women, two teams of eight competing in wheelchair archery. These games continued and four years later the first International Wheelchair Games were held at Stoke Mandeville, when a team from the Netherlands participated.

The Wheelchair Games became truly international when more than 300 athletes from nineteen countries came to Stoke Mandeville to participate in 1956. The picture shows Dr Guttman speaking at the opening ceremony on July 26. Although still called the Wheelchair Games, the term Paralympic Games was beginning to be used in the media, including the Bucks Free Press in their report.

In 1960 over 400 athletes travelled to Rome to take part in what would become known officialy as the first Paralympic Games. Britain’s first Paralympic gold medal was won at those Games by Margaret Maughan who was competing in an open archery event.

The 16th Summer Paralympics should have taken place in 2020 but were postponed to 2021 because of the COVID pandemic. They are taking place in Tokyo, the second time the Games have been hosted by the Japanese capital, from August 24 to September 5. On August 19 Stoke Mandeville Stadium hosted the Heritage Flame Lighting Ceremony.

Over 4,000 athletes will contest events from 22 different sports, with badminton and taekwondo being new editions to the programme. Over 200 athletes will compete in the team from Great Britain.

Later in life Dr Guttmann lived at Daws Hill Lane in High Wycombe. He died on March 18, 1980 aged 80.

Since 2012, when driving into Buckinghamshire, the county border signs proclaim Buckinghamshire as the “Birthplace of the Paralympics”.

The pictures are from the website www.swop.org.uk.