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Last Updated: Monday, 13 September, 2004, 18:13 GMT 19:13 UK
Britain's golden pioneer
By Mike Burnett

With over 4,000 athletes from 146 countries expected in Athens, it is clear the Paralympics have come a long way in the last 44 years.

But one person who can remember those humble beginnings is Margaret Maughan - Britain's first ever gold medallist.

"Everything is totally different now - there were only 400 competitors then," Maughan said of the 1960 Games.

"We didn't call them the Paralympics then, they were called the International Stoke Mandeville Games."

It was at Stoke Mandeville Hospital that neurologist Dr Ludwig Guttmann first developed the idea for the Games.

In 1948, he set up a competition between sports clubs and other hospitals as part of a rehabilitation programme for British war veterans with spinal injuries.

The event grew over the next decade and in 1960 an Olympic-style Games for disabled athletes was held for the first time in Rome.

They had the Italian army on duty at the bottom of every flight of stairs and they had to lift us in our wheelchairs up all the stairs
Margaret Maughan
Maughan, a then 32-year-old archer from Lancashire, was among the 400 competitors who descended on the Italian capital and knew even then that history was in the making.

"The whole thing was very exciting, simply because it hadn't happened before," Maughan, who now lives in Watford, told BBC Sport.

"I won the first gold medal for Great Britain, which was exciting because it was getting towards the end of the day and no-one had won anything."

Maughan's victory was made even more impressive by the fact she had only taken up archery the year before.

After a car accident in 1959 left her unable to walk, she was introduced to the sport while receiving treatment at Stoke Mandeville.

"I started archery when I was in the hospital and went to my parents in Lancashire and joined an archery club," added the 76-year-old.

"It was a great surprise to be picked for the first Paralympics because I had not long been out of hospital."

Pioneering days

In 1960, the Paralympics was certainly not the slick event it has become these days and Maughan remembers the first Games presenting more than a few headaches for organisers and athletes alike.

"We stayed in the Olympic village, which was totally unsuitable because it had been built on stilts. There was nothing on the ground, so there was stairs everywhere.

"They had the Italian army on duty at the bottom of every flight of stairs and they had to lift us in our wheelchairs up all these stairs.

"Also to get to all the venues, they had coaches but they were just ordinary coaches and again we had to be lifted.

"It was such a big operation and nothing like this had happened before."

Maughan went on to compete in several more Games in both archery and later bowls before finally bowing out at Arnem in 1980.

But the retired schoolteacher still looks back at her Roman adventure with the most fondness.

"There was a great camaraderie between everyone there - I have marvellous memories of Rome and I still have friends now that I made then."




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