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Max Nash/PA Wire/Press Association Images Workmen on the closed off Mall, as last minute preparations are made for the Paralympics.
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Explainer: Here’s everything you need to know about the 2012 Paralympics
Don’t know much about the upcoming events? Check out our comprehensive guide.

WITH THE LONDON 2012 Paralympic Games properly beginning today, we thought it necessary to compose a quick explainer relating to the event, for the benefit of those who may be unfamiliar with some of the details surrounding it.

So below is everything you’ll need to know over the course of the next week and a half written in a handy Q and A format, purely for your convenience, dear reader.

What is the Paralympics?

Put simply, it’s the equivalent of the Olympics for competitors who are disabled. The Paralympic Games happens every four years and the first event was in Rome in 1960. Athletes take part in various classes of competition and are classified according to their disability.

As far as the background to the Paralympics’ history is concerned, it was created by Ludwig Guttmann, with the word “para” acknowledging the fact that they run parallel to main Olympic Games. Guttmann had originally established the International Wheelchair Games in 1948, allowing British World War II veterans with spinal cord injuries to compete in organised events, before the initiative was subsequently expanded to accommodate other nations.

How does the classification system work?

Athletes are categorised under the following groups: Movement: amputee, cerebral palsy, visual impairment, spinal cord injuries, intellectual disability and a group which includes all those that do not fit into the aforementioned groups (les autres).

The category in which athletes compete may be judged according to both a physical and technical assessment, and observation in and out of competition.

When does it start? How long does it go on for?

It starts today (or yesterday if you count the opening ceremony) and is set to finish on 9 September.

What sports are included?

Events in 20 different sports will be contested. They are:

Archery, Athletics, Boccia, Paralympic cycling, Equestrian, Football 5-a-side, Football 7-a-side, Goalball, Judo, Powerlifting, Rowing, Sailing, Shooting, Swimming, Table tennis, Volleyball, Wheelchair Basketball, Wheelchair fencing, Wheelchair rugby and Wheelchair tennis.

How many athletes are competing? How many events will be taking place?

The number of athletes competing has grown significantly since the event started. 400 athletes from 23 countries took part in 1960, whereas 4,200 elite athletes from approximately 165 nations are due to feature at London 2012.

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Moreover, 6,500 media and broadcasters will cover 503 medal events this year.

How big is the Irish team?

49 Irish athletes are due to compete across across 10 sports in the coming days.

Who are the Irish stars?

Jason Smyth and Michael McKillop (both athletics) are two of the standouts. Smyth secured two golds in Beijing, while McKillop received one. In addition, Darragh McDonald was a silver medallist in the swimming four years ago.

Where can I watch on TV?

Channel 4 and Setanta are the two main channels covering the event. Alternatively, I hear all the cool kids will be constantly scouring for regular updates.

Read: Science corner: how the prosthetic ‘blades’ of Paralympic athletes work>

Read: In tweets: Ireland’s athletes get set for the 2012 Paralympics>

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