World Para Athletics
Para athletics is the biggest sport within the Paralympic Movement in terms of the number of participating athletes and countries. It was one of eight sports included in the first Paralympic Games in Rome, Italy, in 1960 and has remained on the programme ever since, consistently attracting the biggest crowds and TV audiences.
Today World Para Athletics, under the governance of the International Paralympic Committee, acts as the international federation for the sport and is based in Bonn, Germany.
Open to male and female athletes in all eligible impairment groups, Para athletics offers a wide range of competition opportunities. This includes the Paralympic Games which are held every four years, biennial World and World Junior Championships and biennial or quadrennial regional Championships.
Athletes compete according to their sport specific classification in each event. Some compete in wheelchairs and some with prostheses, while vision impaired athletes are supported by a sighted guide. To further increase the number of athletes with high support needs competing in the sport, the discipline of RaceRunning was included in World Para Athletics events from the start of 2018. Para athletics is now practised internationally by athletes in more than 130 countries.
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 the Rome 1960 Paralympics, the Para athletics competition featured 31 athletes (21 men and 10 women) from 10 countries who took part in 25 medal events. The disciplines athletes competed in included shot put, javelin, precision javelin and club throw. There was also a medal event in men’s pentathlon comprising of archery, swimming, javelin, shot put and club throw. Italy topped the medals table with 32 medals. Maria Scutti won 11 medals for the host nation, including nine golds.
Four years later at the Tokyo 1964 Paralympics, the Para athletics programme expanded to 42 medal events. Wheelchair racing made its Paralympic debut with the dash, slalom and relay events all proving popular with spectators.
Following the introduction of new specialised racing wheelchairs, race distances were extended beyond 100m, to include 200m, 400m, 800m and 1,500m.
The Heidelberg 1972 Paralympic Games saw the Para athletics programme extend beyond just athletes with a spinal cord injury with the inclusion of demonstration events for blind athletes over 100m. Such was their success, full medal events for blind athletes, together with medal events for amputee athletes, formed part of the Toronto 1976 Paralympics.
At the Arnhem 1980 Paralympics, athletes with cerebral palsy joined amputee, blind, and spinal cord injured athletes for the first time. The first marathon events were held at the 1984 Paralympics.
Switzerland’s Franz Nietlispach made history at Seoul 1988 winning eight medals, including six golds, the most ever by a track and field athlete since 1960. His record was surpassed four years later when the USA’s Bart Dodson won eight gold medals in the TW1 class.