The World Para Athletics Grand Prix series heads to Europe this week for the first of four Grand Prix set to take place on the continent before the Berlin 2018 European Championships in three months’ time.
Nearly 200 Para athletes from 29 countries will compete at the event which takes place from 18-20 May at the Stadio Raul Guidobaldi - the second year running the Italian town has hosted the event.
Here’s a look at who could impress:
Finland’s Henry Manni is the one to watch in the men’s T34 races. The 25-year-old has three titles to defend at this year’s European Championships, as well as the 800m T34 title which he wants to reclaim. His season starts in Rieti and a strong performance would provide a welcome indication that all is going to plan.
Malaysia’s Mohamad Puzi won his country’s first ever Paralympic gold medal at Rio 2016, but lost out on gold at the London 2017 World Championships. He takes on the 100m and 400m T36, no doubt with one eye on the Asian Para Games in October.
Home favourite and former 100m and 200m T35 world champion Oxana Corso returns to action after more than a year side-lined by injury. Fellow Italians Monica Contrafatto (100m T63) and Emanuele di Marino (100m and 200m T44), who won 100m T42 bronze and 400m T44 bronze respectively at London 2017, also line up.
Colombia’s Dixon Hooker Velasquez and South Africa’s Union Sekailwe go head-to-head in the men’s 400m T38; Velasquez won silver at London 2017 ahead of Sekailwe, who finished fourth.
Watch out for Turkey’s young talent Mushine Gezer, who races in both the 800m and 1500m T20. She may be only 15 years old but she already has a world bronze medal to her name and will provide stiff competition for the experienced Biacsi twins, Bernadett and Ilona.
Briton Steve Morris contests both middle-distance races in the men’s T20 class, no doubt looking to lay down a marker ahead of Berlin 2018. The 29-year-old has come agonisingly close to finishing on the podium at major championships – he was fourth in London last year and at the last European Championships.
Italy’s in-form thrower Oney Tapia set a new world record* in the men’s discus F11 in April and will be favourite on home soil, while Morocco’s Paralympic champion Azeddine Nouiri is the man to beat in the shot put F34.
A strong Irish contingent lines up including three world-class throwers – Paralympic, world and European silver medallist Orla Barry (discus F57), two-time world silver medallist Noelle Lenihan (discus F38) and Paralympic, world and European silver medallist Niamh McCarthy (discus F41).
Another to look out for ahead of Berlin 2018 is Sweden’s Jeffrey Ige in the men’s shot put F20. He won gold at the 2014 Europeans but was third at Grosseto 2016. He will surely be looking for a return to the top of podium this year.
Expect a nail-biting competition in the men’s long jump T12, which features Sweden’s reigning European champion Per Jonsson and South Africa’s Paralympic champion Hilton Langenhoven. Only three centimetres separates the pair this season – Langenhoven has a 2018 best of 7.18m, while Jonsson has leapt 7.15m.
Malaysian world and Paralympic champion Abdul Latif Romly looks hard to beat in the men’s long jump T20; Qatar’s Sara Masoud, the women’s shot put F33 Paralympic and world silver medallist, also stands out.
Paralympic gold medallist Reinhardt Hamman takes on the javelin F35-38 in Rieti – he could be pushed all the way by the man who won F38 silver behind him in Rio, Colombia’s Villegas Lucumi.
*world records are subject to ratification by the IPC