Member of Team USA Competes in Paralympic Track and fieldMember of Team USA Competes in Paralympic Track and field

Track and field

Track and field (known internationally as athletics) has been a part of the Paralympic program since the first Paralympic Games in Rome, Italy, in 1960. That year, 31 athletes from 10 countries competed in 25 medal events, making it the largest and most popular sport—a trend that has continued to today. At the London 2012 Paralympic Games, 1,130 athletes from 141 countries competed in 160 medal events—setting the Paralympic record for the largest number of participants for a single sport. Track and field also had a record number of spectators in London, regularly selling out the 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium.

The rules of Paralympic track and field are almost identical to those of its Olympic counterpart, with modifications to address issues such as prostheticDefinition: An artificial body part, such as a leg or arm. limbs and racing wheelchairs. Runners who have more severe visual impairments compete with guide runners, who are often attached by the wrist with a tether to the runner.

 

TIMELINE

1952
Wheelchair racing included in the Stoke Mandeville Games, the predecessor to the Paralympic Games

1960
Track and field debuts at the first Paralympic Games in Rome

1964
Wheelchair racing debuts as the Tokyo Paralympic Games

1994
First International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Athletics World Championships held in Berlin

 

EVENTS

Track and field events include running, wheelchair racing, jumping, and throwing. On the track, athletes compete in the 100-meter (100m), 200m and 400m sprints; 800m and 1,500m middle-distance races; 5,000m and 10,000m long-distance races; and 4x100m and 4x400m relay races. Field events include high jump, long jump, club throw, discus, javelin and shot put. Paralympic track and field also includes the marathon, which takes place on the roads of the host city.

EQUIPMENT

Racing chairs and throwing chairs are considered equipment for Paralympic track and field. Racing chairs are designed to be lightweight for efficiency.

As an extension of their body, many athletes also use prostheticsDefinition: An artificial body part, such as a leg or arm., which are specially designed to withstand a large amount of ground force.

FAST FACTS

A need for speed: On fast flats with a tailwind, male wheelchair racers typically race 22–24 miles per hour, while women race 20–22 miles per hour.

Put your money where your wheels are: The average racing wheelchair costs more than $5,000. Typically a frame is roughly $3,000, wheels cost another $2,000, and tires and accessories come in at $250.

London 2012: Team USA came home with 28 medals in track and field at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, putting the team fourth in the overall standings. This included nine gold, six silver and 13 bronze medals. Top performers included Ray Martin (T52), who won four gold medals, and Tatyana McFadden (T54), who won three gold medals and a bronze.

Get this woman a laurel wreath: Tatyana McFadden (T54) was the first person—able-bodied or otherwise—to complete the grand slam of marathons when she won the women’s wheelchair division of the Boston, London, Chicago and New York City marathons in 2013. Not content to rest on her laurels, she did it again in 2014—the same year she took home a silver medal in Nordic skiing at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.

Athlete Spotlight:

April Holmes

April Holmes was a collegiate All-American at Norfolk State University in the 1990s. When a train accident in 2001 led to the loss of her left leg below the knee, Holmes didn't wait long before setting her sights higher than ever. Her doctor told her about the Paralympic Games, and while still lying in her hospital bed Holmes set three goals: represent the United States, break a world record and win a gold medal.

She has achieved each of those in spades. She's represented the United States at the Paralympic Games three times—in 2004, 2008 and 2012—and medaled each time: a bronze in Athens (F44/46 long jump), a gold in Beijing (T44 100m) and bronze in London (T44 100m). And Holmes has broken more than two dozen American and International Paralympic Committee (IPC) world records in the 100m, 200m, 400m and long jump.

Off the track, Holmes runs the April Holmes Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to providing scholarships and medical equipment to people with physical and learning disabilities.

Althete Spotlight April Holmes

CLASSIFICATION

Track and field at the Paralympics is open to male and female athletes from all three impairment groups (visual, intellectual, and physical). A system of letters and numbers is used to distinguish the sport classes—”F” is for field events and “T” is for track events—while the number refers to their sport class.

Note: The models presented below are examples. A classification evaluation must be performed to determine an athlete’s sport class(es). 

Physical Impairment

Visual Impairment

Intellectual Impairment

In the large and varied sport of track and field, athletes with physical impairments compete in sport classes 31–57. Within a given sport class category (for example, T31–34), a lower number usually indicates more severe impairments.

T/F31–38

T/F

31

T/F

32

T/F

33

T/F

34

T/F

35

T/F

36

T/F

37

T/F

38

Track and field athletes with cerebral palsyDefinition: Damage to the central nervous system. (CP) or a traumatic brain injury (TBI) compete in T/F31–38. Athletes who compete seated are in classes 31–34, while athletes who compete standing are in classes 35–38.

T/F31

The most severe of this grouping, T/F31 is reserved for the most severe quadriplegicsDefinition: A person with a permanent condition in which he or she may be unable to move or feel both legs and/or the trunk and/or the arms, usually due to disease or injury of the spinal cord; also called <i>tetraplegia</i>.. In track, these athletes propel their wheelchair with their feet. A T31 athlete with arm function similar to those in T32 may choose to compete in this sport class if they propel the wheelchair with their feet. In field events, these athletes have very poor hand function in handling and throwing the club, shot, discus or javelin.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional
 Competes in
Wheelchair

T/F32

T/F32 consists of quadriplegicDefinition: A person with a permanent condition in which he or she may be unable to move or feel both legs and/or the trunk and/or the arms, usually due to disease or injury of the spinal cord; also called <i>tetraplegic</i>. athletes with more arm function than those in T/F31. As a result, these athletes propel their wheelchairs with their arms. Field athletes demonstrate sufficient ability to manipulate and throw a ball but with poor grasp and release.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional
 Competes in
Wheelchair

T/F33

T/F33 consists of athletes with varying impairments, including quadriplegiaDefinition: A permanent condition in which you may be unable to move or feel both legs and/or the trunk and/or the arms, usually due to disease or injury of the spinal cord; also called <i>tetraplegia</i>., triplegiaDefinition: A permanent condition in which you may be unable to move or feel three of your limbs (arms and legs), usually due to disease or injury of the spinal cord. and hemiplegiaDefinition: A permanent, congenital (existing at birth) condition in which you are partially or totally unable to move one vertical side of the body, usually due to disease of or injury to the motor centers of the brain.. These athletes may have spasticityDefinition: Stiff or rigid muscles, most common in the legs and ranging from mild feelings of stiffness to painful, involuntary muscle spasms. as well as poor trunk mobility, balance, coordination, and hand function. Many  T33 athletes sit with their feet in front of them rather than on their knees because they generally have full muscle and sensation.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional
 Competes in
Wheelchair

T/F34

T/F34 athletes can propel their wheelchairs with long and forceful strokes thanks to a stronger trunk and hands than athletes in T/F33. Many T34 athletes sit with their feet in front of them rather than on their knees because they generally have full muscle and sensation. F34 athletes demonstrate a fully controlled grasp of the club, shot, discus or javelin. 

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional
 Competes in
Wheelchair

 

T/F35

Athletes in T/F35 compete standing, but they may need assistive devices when walking. These athletes usually have normal balance when standing still but have problems balancing while moving.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional

T/F36

T/F36 is designed for athletes who don't require assistive devices to walk but who have issues with balance and coordination. Their impairment means they have trouble keeping a set position and performing explosive movements. This is demonstrated in the long jump, which requires both speed and an explosive jump, and shot put, which requires an explosive throw.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional

T/F37

Standing hemiplegicDefinition: A person with a permanent, congenital (existing at birth) condition in which he or she is partially or totally unable to move one vertical side of the body, usually due to disease of or injury to the motor centers of the brain. athletes compete in T/F37. These athletes may limp but don't need assistive devices to walk.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional

T/F38

The least severe of the CP/TBI sport classes, T/F38 is reserved for athletes who meet the minimum criteria for the CP/TBI impairment group.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional

T/F40–41

T/F

40

T/F

41

Track and field athletes with the les autres condition of short stature—caused by dwarfism—compete in sport classes T/F40–41.

T/F40

A male athlete may compete in T/F40 if his height is equal to or less than 130 centimeters (4 feet, 3 inches). A female athlete may compete in T/F40 if her height is equal to or less than 125 centimeters (4 feet, 1 inch).

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional
 Short
Stature

T/F41

A male athlete may compete in T/F41 if his height is equal to or less than 145 centimeters (4 feet, 9 inches). A female athlete may compete in T/F41 if her height is equal to or less than 137 centimeters (4 feet, 6 inches).

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional
 Short
Stature

T/F42–47

T/F

42

T/F

43

T/F

44

T/F

45

T/F

46

T

47

Track and field athletes with amputationsDefinition: Amputate: to cut (as a limb) from the body. or dysmeliaDefinition: A birth defect where a person is born with missing or shortened limbs. compete in sport classes T/F42–47. Athletes with impairment in the legs compete in 42–44, and athletes with impairment in the arms compete in 45–46. Sport class 47 includes only track athletes.

T/F42

Athletes with a single above-knee amputationDefinition: Amputate: to cut (as a limb) from the body. or an equivalent impairment compete in T/F42.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional

T/F43

Athletes with double below-knee amputationsDefinition: Amputate: to cut (as a limb) from the body. or an equivalent impairment compete in T/F43.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional

T/F44

Athletes with a single below-knee amputationDefinition: Amputate: to cut (as a limb) from the body. or an equivalent impairment compete in T/F44.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional

T/F45

Athletes with double above-elbow amputationsDefinition: Amputate: to cut (as a limb) from the body. or an equivalent impairment compete in T/F45.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional

T/F46

Athletes with a single above-elbow amputationDefinition: Amputate: to cut (as a limb) from the body., double hand amputationsDefinition: Amputate: to cut (as a limb) from the body. or an equivalent impairment compete in T/F46.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional

T47

Athletes with a single hand amputationDefinition: Amputate: to cut (as a limb) from the body. or an equivalent impairment compete in T47. These athletes may compete in running events from 100m to 400m and jumping events. There are no field events for T47 athletes.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional

T51–54

T

51

T

52

T

53

T

54

Track athletes with a range of impairments who compete seated compete in sport classes T51–54. The sport classes are assigned in terms of the muscle power that an athlete is likely to have.

T51

Athletes in T51 have decreased power in their hands, arms and shoulders and little to no muscle power in their trunk and legs.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional
 Competes in
Wheelchair

T52

Athletes in T52 have full or almost full shoulder, elbow and wrist muscle power, which they use for propulsion; poor hand power; and little to no muscle power in their trunk and legs.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional
 Competes in
Wheelchair

T53

T53 athletes have full or almost full arm muscle power but little to no trunk or leg power. These athletes may compensate for the lack of trunk power by compressing the knees toward the torso during competition.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional
 Competes in
Wheelchair

T54

The least severe of this category, T54 is reserved for track athletes who have full arm power, reasonable to full trunk power and possibly significant leg power. These athletes can shift the direction of the wheelchair by sitting up and applying a trunk rotational force.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional
 Competes in
Wheelchair

F51–57

F

51

F

52

F

53

F

54

F

55

F

56

F

57

Field athletes with a range of impairments who compete seated compete in sport classes F51–57. The sport classes are assigned in terms of the muscle power that an athlete is likely to have.

F51

F51 athletes have decreased power in their hands, arms and shoulders and little to no muscle power in their trunk and legs. They use their elbow flexorsDefinition: A group of muscles that help bend the arm. to propel the club, shot, discus or javelin.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional
 Competes in
Wheelchair

F52

F52 athletes have good shoulder, elbow and wrist muscle power; poor hand power; and little to no muscle power in their trunk and legs. The lack of hand function means these athletes must use a different grip to throw.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional
 Competes in
Wheelchair

F53

F53 athletes have almost full arm muscle power, moderate hand and trunk power, and little to no leg power. They can usually grip the throwing implement normally and impart force when throwing.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional
 Competes in
Wheelchair

F54

F54 athletes have full arm muscle power but little to no trunk or leg power. These athletes have normal control of the implement when throwing but no active trunk movements. They may generate force through a helping movement of the non-throwing arm.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional
 Competes in
Wheelchair

F55

F55 athletes have full arm muscle power and some trunk power, which allows for upward movement off the chair, more forward and backward movement, and rotation.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional
 Competes in
Wheelchair

F56

F56 athletes have full arm and trunk muscle power as well as some activity in the hips and hamstrings. They may use their hip flexorsDefinition: A group of muscles that help move the leg and knee toward the body. to help provide force when throwing.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional
 Competes in
Wheelchair

F57

The least severe of this category, sport class F57 is reserved for field athletes who meet the minimum criteria for deficiency, loss of range of motion or muscle power impairment in the lower limbs.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional
 Competes in
Wheelchair

Track and field athletes with visual impairments compete in sport classes 11–13. Each athlete is assigned a class based on their visual acuity and/or field of vision; those with poorest vision are assigned to T/F11, while T/F12 and T/F13 include athletes with more moderate and mild impairments.

A blind athlete in track events may use assistance from a sighted guide during his or her events. The guide is connected to the athlete by a rope or tether while the guide runs alongside the athlete during races. Field athletes also use guides, whose role is to get the athlete in the proper position and then provide verbal cues to help direct a throw or jump. Read more about athletes with visual impairments in the Paralympic Games. 

T/F11

T/F12

T/F13

T/F11

Athletes in this class have no light perception, and some athletes may have prostheticDefinition: An artificial body part, such as a leg or arm. eyes. To completely eliminate light perception and ensure an even playing field, they wear eyeshades during competition. Athletes in this class compete with a guide: track athletes run with a guide runner on the track, and in throwing events guides set field athletes in their proper starting positions. Long jumpers follow the voices of their guides down the runway.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional

T/F12

Athletes in this class have some light perception and varying degrees of peripheral and central vision loss.  These athletes may choose whether to use a guide during competition.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional

T/F13

These athletes have mild visual impairments with decreased visual acuity (fuzzy vision), but they have no need for a guide during competition.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional

Athletes with activity limitations due to an intellectual impairment compete in T/F20. At the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, athletes with intellectual impairments may compete in two field events—long jump and shot put—and one track event—1500m. Read more about athletes with intellectual impairments in the Paralympic Games. 

T/F20

T/F20

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional