Australia at the Örnsköldsvik Winter Paralympics 1976

Ron Finneran, who had contracted polio as a child and had mobility limitations with one leg and an impairment in one arm, was Australia’s only participant at the 1976 Örnsköldsvik Winter Paralympics. His application was supported by the Australian Ski Federation and accepted by the Games Organising Committee, which was keen to assist him on his arrival in Sweden. Finneran arrived 6 weeks before the Games and was welcomed by the locals in Örnsköldsvik, who gave him work during the day and helped him train at night. After the opening ceremony, Finneran was asked to meet with Sir Ludwig Guttmann, founder of the Paralympic movement, who informed Finneran that, since he was not an amputee or a blind or vision impaired athlete, he would not be allowed to participate. Finneran was devastated, arguing that these were the Games for the disabled and his exclusion was unfair. Despite being unable to compete, Finneran stayed in Sweden and acted as a forerunner for events, testing the course before competition. The people of Örnsköldsvik felt such disappointment for him that they raised money to pay for a two year degree in physical education and recreation at the local university.

In attendance were 198 competitors from 16 nations, with official events in Alpine Skiing (slalom and giant slalom) and Cross-country Skiing (for individuals and teams over different distances) and demonstration events including Sledge Hockey and Ice Sledge Racing. Competitiveness varied greatly, with some events being heavily contested and others having only a single participant.

196 athletes from 16 countries competed in the first winter Paralympics in Örnsköldsvik. Australia’s only participant was Ron Finneran.