After a year of virtual competitions in 2020, Para athletics was back on track and field in 2021. It all started with four Grand Prix stops with athletes chasing last spots at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
European Para athletes had another chance to improve on their results before the Games at the Bydgoszcz 2021 European Championships.
Tokyo 2020 was the icing on the cake for Para athletics in 2021 as the world's best gathered in search of Paralympic glory.
When we thought it was all done for 2021, Swiss wheelchair racers Marcel Hug and Manuela Schaer had the strength to finish the successful year in style with marathon domination across the globe.
THE GREAT GRAND PRIX COMEBACK
The season kickeed off in Dubai in February where the 19-year-old Italian sensation Ambra Sabatini broke the world record in the women's 100m T63.
It was Sabatini's first major international competition. She managed to shatter the world record in 14.59.
There were three more world records broken in the venue of the Dubai 2019 World Championships.
Thailand topped the medals table with 39 medals won, including 14 golds. Uzbekistan settled for second place, while India started the year well in third place.
The Grand Prix season continued in Tunisia at the largest Para sport competition of the year in Africa. Home star Walid Ktila and Moroccan Youssra Karim stole the show with their performances.
Karim broke the world record (35.33m) in the women's discus throw F41, while Ktila won two golds in the men's 100m T34/51/52 and 800m T34/54.
The home country topped the medals table together with Morocco and Columbia, respectively.
Grand Prix season moved to Europe in April and May when Jesolo and Notwill closed the action for 2021. The Italian city hosted the Para athletics Grand Prix for the first time with the home star Oney Tapia taking two victories in the men's shot put F11-12 and discus throw multiclass F11-13/20.
Raoua Tlili of Tunisia took two victories as well. She triumphed in the women’s discus throw F40-46 and shot put F40-41/46. Rising stars Luca Ekler of Hungary, Timothee Adolphe of France, and Kiara Rodriguez of Ecuador also celebrated two golds.
Hannah Cockroft of Great Britain and Fleur Jong of the Netherlands shone at the Notwill Grand Prix. British wheelchair racer set a new world record in Switzerland the women’s 800m T34 clocking 1:50.91. She was almost five seconds faster from her previous mark.
Jong also broke her world record in the women's long jump T62. She became the first female T62 athlete to go over the 6m-barrier in the long jump with a new world record of 6.02m. That was only the start of an amazing 2021 for Jong.
Bydgoszcz 2021 European Championships was the first major Para athletics competition since the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. Behind closed doors and with a series of protocols in place to give athletes everything they needed to be at their best, Poland proved to be a great host for the largest event before Tokyo 2020.
A five-day competition at the start of June did not disappoint with 10 great sessions full of outstanding results and amazing world records.
Germany's Markus Rehm was the first on schedule to shock the world with a new world record in the men’s long jump T64. He improved on his previous best by 14 centimetres and reached 8.62m on the opening day in Bydgoszcz.
Hungary's Luca Ekler and Dutch Para athlete Fleur Jong also shone in Poland winning two golds and setting two world records each.
Ekler took her first European Championships gold in the women's long jump T38 equaling the world record (5.51m). On the final day of the Euros, she smashed the women’s 400m T38 world record as well (1:00.27).
Jong broke her world mark twice in the women's long jump T64 eventually setting the final bar at 6.06m. On the first day of competition, in an event she never triumphed in before, Jong set the new world record running 12.64 in the women's 100m T64.
Spain's Adiaratou Iglesias won two golds in the women's 100m and 400m T13 finals, while Germany's Menje Merle starred in the T54 category winning two golds and two silvers. Both athletes made their international debut in Bydgoszcz.
RaceRunning, which made its debut in major Para athletics competitions at Berlin 2018, was one of the highlights at Bydgoszcz 2021.
Dubai 2019 world champion Kayleigh Haggo took the missing European gold winning the 100m RR3 on day four with a new personal best (18.11). There was more British RaceRunning gold with Rafi Solaiman in the men’s 100m RR3.
Russia topped the medals table in Bydgoszcz winning 74 medals, including 31 gold. Andrei Vdovin was the star of the Russian delegation triumphing in three out of three sprinting events in the men's T37 class.
TOKYO 2020 HAD IT ALL
Costa Rica, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Venezuela, Ethiopia and Ecuador were among the countries that won their first Paralympic gold in Para athletics at the Tokyo 2020 Games.
Dinesh Priyantha Herath Mudiyanselage of Sri Lanka won the gold medal smashing the world record by 4m in the men's javelin F46.
Cuba's Omara Durand, Republic of Ireland's Jason Smyth, and Great Britain's Hannah Cockroft won their sixth Paralympic title each at the Tokyo 2020 adding new chapters to their names in the Paralympic history books.
Germany's Markus Rehm jumped over 8m-mark again to win the second gold medal of the year, while Swiss wheelchair racer Marcel Hug made his best-ever Paralympic appearance winning four golds, including the one in the marathon race.
The men's 100m T64 final stole the show in its first Paralympic appearance. Felix Streng of Germany won gold in front of Costa Rica's Sherman Guity Guity. Great Britain's Jonnie Peacock and Streng's fellow countryman Johannes Floors clocked in the same time winning bronze. They were all separated by a 0.3 seconds-margin.
Despite all of the amazing results achieved in Tokyo, one event went viral more than any other. Cape Verde’s Keula Nidreia Pereira Semedo was proposed by her guide Manuel Antonio Vaz da Veiga after the qualification race in the women’s 200m T11.
Vaz de Veiga got on his knee to ask for Semedo's hand. The vision-impaired athlete said yes and instantly became one of the highlight of Games.
China climbed onto the first step of the podium in the medals table winning 27 golds. It was the fifth time in a row that the Asian country topped the medals table at the Paralympic Games.
SWISS SILVER BULLET FOR THE WIN
After winning four golds at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, Switzerland's wheelchair racer Marcel Hug continued his season with marathon races.
He took four victories in the most prestigious World Marathon Majors series triumphing in Berlin, London, Boston, and New York.
On top of that, he broke the 22-year-old world record in the men’s wheelchair race marathon T53/54 at the Oita Marathon in Japan. His time was more than two minutes faster than the mark set by his countryman Heinz Frei in the same race in 1999 (1:20:14).
Hug's outstanding results in 2021 were recognised by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC). The Swiss Silver Bullet won the 2021 Paralympic Sports Award as Best Male Athlete.
Watch out for more in 2022! Happy new year!