Paralympic Games
24 August - 5 September 2021

Sport week: 10 things to know about Para athletics

List of facts in the build-up to this year's Games, from Paralympic-specific events to the fastest Para athletes 20 May 2021
Cuban athlete with a prosthesis in the air after jumping while competing in the long jump
Malu Perez Iser of Cuba competes in the women's long jump T47 at Rio 2016
ⒸGetty Images

Since featuring in the first Paralympic Games in Rome, Italy, in 1960, Para athletics has steadily grown to become the sport with the biggest number of participating athletes, spectators and TV audiences in the Games.

1. With 14 gold medals apiece, wheelchair spring and long-distance racers Chantal Petitclerc of Canada between Atlanta 1996 and Beijing 2008 and Switzerland’s Franz Nietlispach from Arnhem 1980 to Sydney 2000 are the most decorated female and male athletics Paralympians, respectively.

Ⓒ Lieven Coudenys

2. Club throw is a Paralympic specific event, considered by some to be the equivalent of Olympic hammer throw. Club throw is for athletes with significant hand impairments who compete seated. The event requires them to throw a wooden club resembling a bowling pin weighing a minimum of 397g with a length of 350mm to 390mm. There are no rules governing throwing style; facing away from the target zone and throwing from behind is also acceptable.

Ⓒ Lieven Coudenys

3. The Para athletics classification system defines who is eligible to compete and describes methods for dividing eligible athletes up into sport classes. The aim is that each class should consist of athletes who have impairments that cause approximately the same amount of activity limitation in the key athletic disciplines – running, wheelchair racing, jumps and throws.

There are 10 eligible impairment types: eight physical impairments, with some athletes competing in wheelchairs and some with prostheses, as well as vision impairment – athletes may be supported by a sighted guide depending on the level of impairment and intellectual impairment.

Ⓒ OIS Photos

4. Para athletics was one of the eight sports featured at the inaugural Paralympic Games in Rome, Italy, in 1960. Since then, 109 countries have won at least one medal in the sport, more than in any other. Malaysia won their first three Paralympic titles at Rio 2016, all three in athletics -Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli celebrating below after winning men's shot put T20-.

Ⓒ Getty Images

5. Rome 1960’s Para athletics competition featured 31 athletes from 10 countries taking part in 25 medal events. At Tokyo 2020, around 1,100 athletes spanning all five continents will compete across 168 medal events.

Ⓒ NPC Japan

6. Astonishingly, the top four finishers in the men’s 1,500m T13 at Rio 2016 all clocked under 3:50.00 and surpassed the top-four finishes at the same event in the Rio 2016 Olympics, with Algeria’s Abdellatif Baka becoming Paralympic champion after clocking 3:48.29.

7. Many Para athletics events require specific sport equipment such as the club, discus, shot put, and javelin.

Runners with vision impairment may use rope tethers or other devices to link with their sighted guides. Acoustic devices (or a sighted "caller") may be used to indicate take-off in jumping events, throwing target areas, etc.

Wheelchairs are considered sports equipment in track and field events, and racing wheelchairs tend to be very lightweight and aerodynamic. Prosthetic devices may be used by amputees. World Para Athletics rules require the use of leg prostheses in track events; however, the use of prostheses in field events is optional.

Ⓒ OIS Photos

8. Vision impaired athletes compete in long jump T11 events wearing blindfolds to ensure a fair competition. Silence in the stadium is therefore essential as they speed down the runway before leaping as athletes are directed only by the voice or claps of their guide, standing near the sand.

Ⓒ OIS Photos

9. Italian Maria Scutti holds the record for winning more Para athletics medals at a singles Games when she claimed 11 including nine golds across throwing events at Rome 1960. 

10. Cuban Omara Durand is the fastest female Paralympian as she holds the 100m T12 world record at 11.40, while Brazilian Petrucio Ferreira (10.42 in the 100m T46/47) is the fastest among men.

Ⓒ OIS Photos