The Paralympics Games: A Story of Sporting Superpowers and Pretenders to the Throne

As the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games kick off on Tuesday 24th August, spectators will be wondering which nations have been dominating historically and which emerging nations should you keep an eye on? If we look at medal tables from past competitions, there are stories to be told of falling giants, emerging powers and the unwinding story of the Great British Paralympic team perhaps proving the most intriguing of all.

From the Top

The Paralympics first began in 1960 in Rome with Great Britain finishing 2nd in the medal table after host nation Italy. The Tokyo 2020 Paralympics will be the 16th incarnation of the games and 10 nations (including Great Britain and USA) have competed in every single one.

Stars and Stripes Forever?

The USA have consistently dominated the Summer Olympic games, sitting proudly at the top of the all-time medal table. It’s a similar story in the Paralympic Games, well at least… it was. In the first 36 years of the Paralympics, USA topped the medal table in all but two of them, where they were beaten by hosts Italy in 1960 and hosts West Germany in 1972. Following a stellar performance in their last home games of Atlanta 1996, the American Team seems to have dropped in form, having failed to make a top two finish in the five Paralympic Games since.

Their previous dominance means on the eve of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, USA sit comfortably on top of the all-time medal table, with 146 golds more than their closest competitor Great Britain. However, their dwindling form, combined with a significant step up by their closest competitors, has left the door ajar for them to be usurped as the dominant Paralympic Nation.

British Beef

Team GB have been consistently strong in the Paralympic games, never finishing below 5th in the medals table, however that coveted 1st position still eludes them. Such consistency has paid dividends, with Great Britain sitting in 2nd place in the all-time Paralympic medal table and, with the USA faltering, Tokyo could mark the beginning of the changing of the guards with Great Britain closing the gap significantly. 

Their form has been consistently impressive following Atlanta 1996, with Team GB finishing in 2nd place in all but one of the previous five Paralympic games, narrowly finishing 3rd in the London Paralympics in 2012.  Such impressive displays have deputised on USA’s dwindling form over the past 5 games, and with each passing games, truly challenged the USA’s 60 year stranglehold at the top of the medal table

Stars and Stripes Forever?

China first competed at the Paralympic games in 1984, finishing 28th with a modest 2 golds. A far cry from their current run of form. Over the following 32 years, China’s Paralympic team has gone from strength to strength. improving their position in the medal table with each Paralympic games. By 2004 they topped the Paralympic medal table for the very first time and have not surrendered the position since. China’s dominance has become clearer with each passing game and are favourites as we go into Tokyo after their first Paralympic Gold century (107) in the Rio 2016 Olympics.

China’s margin of victory has also been impressive, with a lead of 28-59 gold medals each time. They currently sit 4th in the all-time Paralympic Medal table, 45 Golds behind Germany, 184 behind Great Britain and 330 behind the USA.

Rising Sun on a New Era

In Tokyo, China are hot favourites to top the medal table for the 5th time in a row and it may, yet again, be by a significant margin. Great Britain will aim to be competitive with China, whilst continuing to outperform the USA as they have done in the previous 5 Paralympics. Furthermore, with the USA’s incredible performance in the Summer Olympics, the USA Paralympic team must have plans to improve on their performances from the previous 5 Paralympics and at least be more competitive with Great Britain, if not China. 

The impact of Tokyo on the overall table is likely to set up the narrative of the Paralympic Games to come. If China meets and exceeds expectations for their 10th Paralympic Games, it is almost certain they will move into the all-time 3rd position above Germany. This means the aftermath of Tokyo will put the three biggest Paralympic players together in the top three all-time medal positions. Primed, hungry and jostling for position, the fight for dominance in games to come promises to be electrifying. 

Ultimately, the margins between the USA, Great Britain, and China are currently too vast for any changes in position to happen after Tokyo, however the beginnings of a dynamic power shift will be players out in the public sphere. If the USA cannot address their dwindling form, it is very possible both China and Great Britain will leapfrog the USA in the all-time medal table. With this leap-frogging all but a by-gone certainty, the only remaining questions are when will it happen and who will do it first? 

The Tokyo Paralympics begin today, if you would like more information on the current state of the Paralympics, and the work we at Skylab are doing in para-sports, please feel free to get in touch at

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