The 2018 Winter Olympics are in full swing in PyeongChang, South Korea and Team USA has been taking home the golds! You’ve probably heard of the Paralympics, the international Olympic tournament for physically-impaired athletes. But did you know there is also an official Olympic tournament specifically for deaf athletes? It’s called the Deaflympics and you can read all about them below!
Deaflympics: The Beginning
The Deaflympics were originally called the “International Games for the Deaf” and the first games were held in Paris in 1924. This was the first international sporting event held for athletes with a disability. The games were organized by deaf Frenchman Eugene Rubens-Alcais, who previously founded France’s sports federation for the deaf and mute. There were nine participating countries with 148 athletes who excelled in road cycling, diving, football, shooting, swimming, and tennis.
In 1996, the name changed to “World Games for the Deaf,” and then changed again in 2001 to “Deaflympics.” The games are held every two years and alternate Summer and Winter games.
The most recent Deaflympics Games were held in July 2017 and hosted by Turkey. Over three thousand athletes from 97 countries participated in the games. Russia ruled the games, taking home a total of 199 medals, including 85 gold. Team USA came in tenth place, with only 16 medals. However, the US holds a total of 1,003 Summer Deaflympics medals since the inception of the games, the most of any country.
The 2015 Winter Deaflympics was hosted in Russia with 336 athletes from 27 countries. The Winter games have less events than the Summer ones, and Russia dominated with a total of 30 medals. The US has hosted the Deaflympic Games twice, once in Washington D.C. and once in Los Angeles.
To qualify for the games, athletes must have hearing loss of at least 55db in one ear. The use of hearing aids and cochlear implants are not allowed during competition, in order to keep the playing field level. The athletes in the Deaflympics also have a greater age range than Olympic athletes—the oldest medalist in the history of the games was nearly 76 years old, and the youngest medalist was 12!
Deaflympics vs. Olympics
Besides the obvious, how do the Deaflympics differ from the Olympics? There are several differences in the way the games are run. The Deaflympic referees don’t use whistles; instead they use flags. On the track, races are started by a light rather than the sound of a pistol. In addition, spectators watching the games often wave with both hands to cheer their athletes on, rather than yelling or clapping.
However, the Deaflympics make sure not to alter the rules of sports in any way. All of the events are played the same way they are at the Olympics (unlike the Paralympics, which does have different rules and regulations). In 2001, the International Committee of Sports of the Deaf published a statement about the future direction of the games and included this significant quote:
“[…] the rules for playing each sport are not altered in any way for the deaf participants. This fact distinguishes Deaf sport from sports played by other groups of people with disabilities. Deaf people are not disabled in any manner except communication—and this is only a disability when a deaf person is in a situation where hearing and speech are the primary means of communication. Deaf people consider themselves a culturally distinct minority group and it is for cultural reasons that the Deaflympics exists. That is, culture and not ability to play a game is the factor central to deaf people having the Deaflympics. Deaf people want to be among others who are deaf and talk in sign language.”