Track

Striving to be even a fraction of a second faster. Athletes tap into their own potential as they become one with their prosthesis or caller.

One Minute, One Sport | Para Atletics Track
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Overview

The first Para athletics competition was held in 1952 when several athletes with a spinal cord injury took part in a javelin event as part of the Stoke Mandeville Games, which served injured World War II veterans. At Rome 1960, the Para athletics competition featured 31 athletes (21 men and 10 women) from 10 countries who took part in 25 medal events.

Para athletics differs significantly from athletics at the Olympics as athletes are placed into competition categories (called sport classes) according to how much their impairment affects sports performance.

Track events may include short, medium and long-distance races as well as relays. However, they are not fixed since the question of which events and classes are held is determined on a competition-by-competition basis in light of factors such as the number of participating athletes.

Athletes challenge their limits by striving to shave even a fraction of a second off their personal best time while compensating for their impairment.

Find out about the details of athletics classification

Event Programme

  • 100m T11 (Men/Women)
  • 100m T12 (Men/Women)
  • 100m T13 (Men/Women)
  • 100m T33 (Men)
  • 100m T34 (Men/Women)
  • 100m T35 (Men/Women)
  • 100m T36 (Men/Women)
  • 100m T37 (Men/Women)
  • 100m T38 (Men/Women)
  • 100m T47 (Men/Women)
  • 100m T51 (Men)
  • 100m T52 (Men)
  • 100m T53 (Men/Women)
  • 100m T54 (Men/Women)
  • 100m T63 (Men/Women)
  • 100m T64 (Men/Women)
  • 200m T11 (Women)
  • 200m T12 (Women)
  • 200m T35 (Men/Women)
  • 200m T36 (Women)
  • 200m T37 (Men/Women)
  • 200m T47 (Women)
  • 200m T51 (Men)
  • 200m T61 (Men)
  • 200m T64 (Men/Women)
  • 400m T11 (Men/Women)
  • 400m T12 (Men/Women)
  • 400m T13 (Men/Women)
  • 400m T20 (Men/Women)
  • 400m T36 (Men)
  • 400m T37 (Men/Women)
  • 400m T38 (Men/Women)
  • 400m T47 (Men/Women)
  • 400m T52 (Men)
  • 400m T53 (Men/Women)
  • 400m T54 (Men/Women)
  • 400m T62 (Men)
  • 800m T34 (Men/Women)
  • 800m T53 (Men/Women)
  • 800m T54 (Men/Women)
  • 1500m T11 (Men/Women)
  • 1500m T13 (Men/Women)
  • 1500m T20 (Men/Women)
  • 1500m T38 (Men)
  • 1500m T46 (Men)
  • 1500m T52 (Men)
  • 1500m T54 (Men/Women)
  • 5000m T11 (Men)
  • 5000m T13 (Men)
  • 5000m T54 (Men/Women)
  • 4x100m Universal Relay (Mixed)

Essence of the Sport

Thirty gold medallists in a 100-metre race? Competition unfolds by class.

The division of athletes into sport classes is undertaken to facilitate fair competition, with each competitor's sport class determined based on an athlete evaluation by classifiers with expert qualifications from medical, motor function and sport specific perspectives. Track sport classes are expressed by the letter T followed by a two-digit number. The tens digit indicates the type of impairment, while the ones digit expresses the extent of the impairment, with smaller values indicating more severe impairments.

Event rules are based on the rules for the corresponding World Athletics event, with some changes to reflect factors such as the nature of competitors' impairments and the characteristics of the event in question. For example, all athletes in class T11 (total visual impairment, etc.) and some athletes in class T12 (low vision) run with a guide runner who serves as a substitute for the runner's eyes by providing visual orientation, staying together by holding onto a rope (tether) and running side by side. Sport Class T11 athletes run with the guide and Sport Class T12 competitors can choose whether to run with a guide runner or alone. Guide runners guide the athlete to the finish line while verbally communicating information about the course, times and surroundings, with athlete safety their top priority. Leading the runner or crossing the finish line ahead of the runner results in disqualification.

In the 60s Sport Classes, the athletes may use a prosthesis designed for competitive use. There has been remarkable progress in research and development into such aspects of prosthetic leg design as materials and shapes, and athletes may adjust them to suit their own impairment as long as they conform to the rules. However, such prostheses are stiffer than you might imagine, so athletes must develop enough muscle strength and technique to withstand the bouncing force transmitted to their body by the prosthesis and utilise that energy to compete successfully. Those factors translate into differences in the race times of athletes who are using the same model of prosthesis.

Wheelchair classes use a special wheelchair developed specifically for high-speed racing. Although the chair must have at least three wheels, it cannot incorporate windbreaks, gears, or other equipment, and it must be operated solely by means of the athlete's upper body strength, for example his or her arm strength. Parts can be customised to accommodate the athlete's impairment and build, as long as they conform to the rules. The performance of racing wheelchairs — for example in terms of lightweight designs — is improving year by year, but it is essential for competitors to customise specifications such as the seat height and the size of parts used to drive the wheels. The step-by-step process of fine-tuning various parts — sometimes by only a few millimetres — is a critical part of improving results. This enables the racer to efficiently transfer power to the wheels and search for the optimal positions and settings through trial and error.

Although there are fewer events than at the Olympics, Para athletics track events are characterised by numerous final races for each event, since they are organised by sport class. A typical example of this is the 100m race, which included final races for 16 men's classes and 14 women's classes at the Rio 2016 Games, yielding a total of 30 gold medal winners for that event.

Outlook for the Tokyo 2020 Games

With competitiveness improving year by year, how far can human potential go?

The number of countries and athletes competing in athletics is increasing as the scale of the Paralympics grows, leading to rapid improvements in both the level of competition and records. Some 70 new world records were set in athletics at the Rio 2016 Games.

China has exhibited overwhelming strength in track events in recent years, followed by the U.S.A. and Great Britain in medal rankings at the Rio 2016 Games. Other notable performers include Brazil, which showed strength in short-distance running; Thailand, which is focusing on strengthening its performance in wheelchair classes; and Kenya, a contender in medium- and long-distance running.

Many athletes compete in multiple distances. For example, women's class T54 athlete Tatyana McFadden (U.S.A.) won four gold and two silver medals in five wheelchair track events (100m, 400m, 800m, 1500m, and 5000m) as well as the marathon at the Rio 2016 Games. Men's class T54 athlete Marcel Hug (Switzerland) won both the 800m and the marathon.

While the performance of competitive racing wheelchairs is improving, the process of fitting a high-performance wheelchair to oneself so that one can fully utilise that performance remains essential in setting wheelchair event records.

Turning to track events held for visual impairment classes, two lanes are allotted for each athlete since all T11 athletes and some T12 athletes run alongside a guide runner. Consequently, only four athletes who have won preliminary races can compete in the final race, where they will vie for three medals. Guide runners' athletic ability is tested, too, and they hone their skills along with athletes in short-distance events, where their ability to keep perfect pace with their athletes from start to finish is one of the most compelling aspects of the sport.

Intellectually impaired athletes compete in a single class (T20), where competition is distinguished by the differing characteristics of individual athletes' disabilities. The rules for each event are roughly the same as for the corresponding Olympic event, and athletes compete in a separate competition. It is important for competitors to learn skills such as pacing and strategies to modulate their own performance relative to other competitors through repeated practice sessions and then to put those skills to use when they race. In recent years, the sport class has produced remarkable progress in terms of ever-improving records.

Running is the foundation of the sport, and participation by new athletes is increasing in all classes. It is likely that several new stars will be born in the run-up to Tokyo 2020.

Trivia