Preview: the season ahead of para-athletics

A look ahead to what is in store for para-athletics in a busy 2016, the highlight of which will be the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. 12 Jan 2016
Man leading a pack in a wheelchair race

Walid Ktila of Tunisia competes in the men's 800m T34 heats at the 2015 IPC Athletics World Championships

ⒸLOC Doha 2015 | Getty Images

After a record-breaking 2015 the next 12 months should prove to be even bigger and better as the para-athletics season gears up towards the pinnacle of the sport – the Paralympic Games, which take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil from 7-18 September.

October 2015 saw more than 1,300 para-athletes from around the world line up at the IPC Athletics World Championships in Doha, Qatar, with 54 world records set in 212 medal events. That event marked the end of 10 months of thrilling para-athletics – now it is time to see what is in store this year.

As well as the Rio 2016 Paralympics there are two regional championships taking place in 2016, starting with the first ever Asia-Oceania Championships, which will be hosted by the Dubai Club for the Disabled in the United Arab Emirates from 6-12 March.

Then from 10-16 June the European Championships take place in Grosseto, Italy - two years after a highly successful event in Swansea, Great Britain, which saw seven world records and a further seven European records set.

Taking place at the Carlo Zecchini Olympic Stadium and set to feature round 700 athletes from nearly 40 countries, the event is the last major opportunity for para-athletes to qualify for Rio 2016.

The European Championships often provide a vital platform for many aspiring young track and field stars as well as a perfect opportunity for more established names as they fine tune their preparations for Brazil.

Four years ago Dutch sprinter Marlou van Rhijn was one of the emerging athletes to make a major breakthrough at the European Championships in Stadskanaal, the Netherlands, just weeks before the London 2012 Paralympics Games where she won 200m T44 gold and 100m T44 silver.

As in 2015, nine Grand Prix will take place across five continents this year, starting with a return to Brisbane, Australia, from 5-7 February.

Then it is on to Dubai in the UAE (17-20 March) – the scene of 16 world records last year, including two for Great Britain’s Aled Davies who set new marks in the shot put and discus F42.

The Grand Prix series continues in Tunis, Tunisia (24-26 March), then on to Grosseto, Italy, (8-10 April) before heading to Beijing, China (22-24 April). China topped the medals table at last year’s World Championships with the likes of Cuiqing Liu claiming three individual gold medals. After their success in Doha expect more world class performances as China’s best line up on home soil.

Next the series heads to Tempe in the USA (13-14 May) before heading south to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil for the seventh Grand Prix of the year, which doubles as the Rio 2016 test event.

The meeting from 19-21 May will provide many Paralympic hopefuls with a vital chance to experience first-hand the climate, culture, food and facilities of the Paralympic hosts – where the smallest of margins can mean the difference between gold and silver.

A week later (26-29 May) and it is the turn of Nottwil, Switzerland – traditionally one of the most competitive wheelchair racing meetings in the world. Last year nine world records were broken – including new records for sprinters Marlou Van Rhijn, Italy’s Martina Caironi, Finland’s Toni Piispanen and Australia’s Angie Ballard. The men’s 5,000m T54 also saw Rawat Tana get the better of home favourite Marcel Hug – the Thai went on to clinch 5,000m and 1,500m world gold in Doha.

The German capital of Berlin hosts the final Grand Prix of 2016 on 16-17 July – last year it was the scene of Russia’s Evgenii Shvetcov’s 200m T36 world record, whilst Caironi notched up her third 200m world record of the year.

The series culminates for the second year running with the Grand Prix Final at the Olympic Park in London (23-24 July), where last year home favourite Georgina Hermitage broke her own world record in the 400m T37. She then went on to break the record again when winning world gold in Doha.

A number of major marathon races also take place throughout 2016 including the newly established Abbott World Marathon Majors series for elite wheelchair racers.

The series starts with the Boston marathon on 18 April and includes races in London (24 April), Berlin (25 September), Chicago (9 October) and New York (6 November). The event also takes in next year’s Tokyo marathon in February and ends back in Boston in April 2017.

Last year Tatyana McFadden secured her third straight marathon Grand Slam winning the Boston-London-Chicago-New York quadruple – the American is undoubtedly the one to beat again this year.

But this year all roads lead to Rio and the first ever Paralympic Games in South America. Athletics will be at the heart of the 22 sports at the Games with 177 gold medals to be won. With less than eight months to go and a season bursting with competition almost underway, 2016 will be a year to remember.