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A Decade Of Growth: How The Paralympic Movement Advanced In The 2010s

By Stuart Lieberman | Dec. 30, 2019, 12:01 a.m. (ET)

Amy Purdy and Oprah Winfrey speak at Oprah's The Life You Want Weekend on Sept. 27, 2014 in Newark, N.J.


“We’ve arrived,” 13-time Paralympic gold medalist Jessica Long told The New York Times earlier this year, when the United States Olympic Committee was rebranded inclusively as the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee.

Long’s phrase sums up the last decade perfectly, one in which Team USA’s Para athletes have seen the Paralympic Movement grow in leaps and bounds, from increased media coverage and sponsorships to greater inclusion and grassroots expansion.

Here’s a closer look at how the Paralympic Movement has changed in the U.S. in the last decade.

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Increased Inclusion
In the final year of the decade, the U.S. Olympic Committee formally changed its name to the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee — a change celebrating all athletes of Team USA and the Paralympic Movement in the United States. The USOPC board of directors unanimously approved the change in its quarterly meeting. The name change, effective June 20, 2019, was groundbreaking and is resulting in updated marks on social and digital platforms and physical signage at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Centers, U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Sites and the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee headquarters. The names of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum and U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Hall of Fame also changed. The hall of fame also now inducts three Paralympic athletes in each class.

Equal Award Payments
Less than a year prior to the name change, in September 2018, Operation Gold Awards for Paralympic athletes increased by as much as 400 percent, meaning Paralympians and Olympians now earn equal payouts for Games medal performances. Payments were retroactively distributed to include medals won at the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018. The retroactive increase placed more than $1.2 million in the hands of 2018 Paralympic medalists.

Broadcast And Media Coverage
Coverage and awareness of the Paralympic Movement in the U.S. changed dramatically over the past decade, much in part due to NBC Olympics’ unprecedented coverage of the Paralympic Games. NBC went from a 90-minute documentary and 28 hours of programming on Universal Sports of the Beijing 2008 Games that aired two months after the Games occurred to 70 total hours of coverage at Rio 2016 and 250 total hours of coverage at PyeongChang 2018 across NBC, NBCSN, the Olympic Channel, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app. 

The London 2012 Paralympic Games were truly the first social and digital Games, with more than 1.3 million tweets mentioning “Paralympic” during the event.

Additionally, media coverage for U.S. Paralympians increased drastically across online, print and broadcast media outlets, with stories shifting from athletes’ disabilities and backgrounds to their abilities and accomplishments on the field of play. Major media outlets such as The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, USA Today and People magazine now cover Paralympians during each Games cycle. 

Increased Sponsorship Opportunities
In addition to greater interest by fans, there has been a drastic increase in the interest of sponsors to include Paralympic sports in their campaigns and personally sponsor Para athletes along with their Olympic counterparts thanks to the efforts of both the USOPC and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). In 2018, the IOC ended the practice of separate rights negotiations for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, meaning all TOP Olympic sponsors such as Visa and Coca-Cola will sponsor both Games.

New Sports
Three sports were added to the Paralympic Games program in the last decade: paracanoe, Para snowboarding and paratriathlon. Team USA swept the podium in both the men’s snowboarding debut at the Sochi 2014 Games and in the women’s PT2 paratriathlon event debut at the Rio 2016 Games.

Household Names
From 17-time Paralympic medalist Tatyana McFadden’s appearances on international TV and radio stations to snowboarding sensation Amy Purdy’s runner-up finish on “Dancing with the Stars,” top Paralympians have started to become household names across America. Purdy also traversed the nation with Oprah Winfrey on her "The Life You Want Weekend" tour in late 2014.

As an example, at the most recent Paralympic Games in 2018, U.S. Paralympians expanded their personal social media followers by 6.5 percent, collecting roughly 25,000 new followers over the course of the event, led by medalists Brenna Huckaby, Oksana Masters and Purdy.

Stuart Lieberman covered Paralympic sports for three years at the International Paralympic Committee, including at the London 2012 and Sochi 2014 Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.