The 2016 IPC Athletics season opens in Australia this weekend (6-7 February), as the first Grand Prix of the year kicks off a thrilling few months of para-athletics, climaxing with September’s Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
The event in Canberra, which doubles as the Athletics ACT Championships, is the first in the series of nine Grand Prix taking place around the world this year, in addition to July’s Grand Prix Final in Great Britain.
Australia first played host to the Grand Prix circuit last year, when Kobie Donovan catapulted herself into the history books with a new world record throw in the women’s discus F40.
This year more than 90 para-athletes from nine different countries – including over 15 World Championship medallists - are set to line up at the AIS Athletics Field in the Australian capital. Here are some of the key events to look out for:
Women’s 100m (ambulant)
All eyes will be on newly crowned double world champion Isis Holt who dominated the track in Doha, Qatar, three months ago – landing the 100m and 200m T35 global titles in world record time. Holt clocked 13.63 in the Middle East and the 14-year-old will undoubtedly provide stiff competition for her rivals, including world bronze medallist Brianna Coop. But watch out for last year’s Brisbane Grand Prix champion, T38 sprinter Ella Pardy. The 26-year-old was in great form in 2015 with a season’s best of 13.16.
Women’s 400m (wheelchair)
Angie Ballard enjoyed a terrific track season in 2015, smashing the 400m T53 world record in June before claiming two gold medals at October’s World Championships. The 33-year-old cites the 400m as her favourite event and the Australian will undoubtedly be tough to beat. Her compatriots Madison de Rozario (T53) and Rosemary Little (T34) are among those hoping to upset the form book; expect a big performance from Japan’s world bronze medallist Yuka Kiyama (T52) too.
Women’s long jump
There is a stellar line-up in the women’s long jump as the reigning world champion and T46/47 world record holder Carlee Beattie takes on the likes of New Zealand’s world bronze medallist Anna Grimaldi and Commonwealth champion Jodi Elkington-Jones (T37). Beattie, who won Paralympic silver in 2012, leapt a season’s best 5.75m to take gold in Doha and will be tough to beat on home soil.
Women’s shot put (seated)
Australia’s Brydee Moore won shot put F33 silver at the 2015 World Championships while her compatriot Louise Ellery won shot put F32 bronze; the pair take to the field in Canberra this weekend hoping to make their mark once more in a thrilling year of para-athletics. The pair will also be hoping experience pays off against teenager Julie Charlton (F57).
Men’s 400m (wheelchair)
The Australian trio of Richard Colman (T53), Rheed McCracken (T34) and Kurt Fearnley (T54), together with the USA’s Josh George (T53) are amongst an impressive field racing over one lap on the Canberra track. Experienced racer Colman has seven Paralympic medals to his name, including 800m gold and 400m bronze from London 2012, whilst George added the 2015 world marathon title to the 800m gold he won at Lyon 2013. Fearnley meanwhile is another competitor with a glittering para-athletics CV which includes three Paralympic titles and multiple marathon wins around the globe. The Australian is a mentor to talented teenager Rheed McCracken, who was ranked fourth in the world last year having won three silver and a bronze at the 2013 World Championships aged just 16.
McCracken, Fearnley and George also line up over 800m.
Men’s 800m (ambulant)
Two-time Paralympic silver medallist Brad Scott races over 800m in Canberra, having picked up his third world silver medal in Qatar last year – this time over 1,500m. The Australian T37 middle-distance man sat second in the global rankings last year behind Ireland’s multiple world and Paralympic champion Michael McKillop, and he will be hoping to dominate the field this weekend. Japan’s world finalist Takafumi Igusa is among those hoping to make their mark in Paralympic Games year.
Men’s long jump
Japan’s Atsushi Yamamoto is another para-athlete hoping to build on their golden success from the 2015 World Championships. The 33-year-old leapt a Championship record 6.29m in Doha to retain the world title he first won in 2013. An international field including the likes of Great Britain’s Ryan Raghoo (T36), New Zealand’s Ethan Rangi (F20) and Singapore’s Ngiap Kiang Loh (F20) also line up.
Live results from Canberra can be found at athletics.com.au