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Track Events

Athletics is one of the most popular Paralympic sports. Athletics was included in the competition program of the first Paralympic Games in 1960 in Rome. It involves the largest number of men and women athletes and the largest number of events.

Jean Driscoll of USA celebrates winning Gold in the women’s Marathon in class 54 final during the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games. © Nick Wilson/AllsportParticipants in the Paralympic Games are men and women athletes with cerebral palsy, spinal chord injuries, amputations or other physical disabilities, blind athletes and athletes with vision impairment. The competition program includes track and field events, throwing and jumping events, the marathon and pentathlon.

Athletes compete in a wheelchair or using prosthetic legs or arms (artificial limbs), while blind athletes compete with the help of a guide.

Athletes are classified in various classes, based on their type of disability:

Athletes with cerebral palsy are classified in classes 32 to 38. In classes 32 to 34, athletes compete in a wheelchair, and in classes 35 to 38 in an upright standing position.

Athletes with spinal cord injuries or other physical disabilities, other than cerebral palsy, are classified according to their mobility profile, in classes 51 to 54 for track events and 51 to 58 for throwing events. In these classes athletes compete in a wheelchair.

Athletes with an amputation of one or more limbs, as well as other physical disabilities (les autres) who compete in a standing position, are classified into classes 42 to 46.

Athletes with vision impairment and blind athletes are classified in the three classes 11, 12 and 13.

Athletes with dwarfism due to lack of cartilage formation ('achondroplasia') compete only in throwing events, in category 40.

Athletics at the 2004 Paralympic Games


Track Events

The track events are divided into sprint events, semi-endurance (middle distance) events, endurance (long distance) events, events outside the stadium, and relay events (team events).


Shea Cowart of USA on her way to Gold in the Womens 100 m final in class 44 during the 2000 Paralympic Games. © Sean Garnsworthy/Allsport 
Sprint events include:
The 100 m event. It is the shortest distance in sprint events. Every athlete runs in his own lane (color).
The 200 m event. The 200 m is the modern equivalent of the ancient “stadium” event of 192.27 m. Many 100 m athletes also compete in the 200 m event, since these two events require similar abilities.
The 400 m event. It involves total coverage of the perimeter of the stadium and is considered an extended speed event. The 400 m is the modern equivalent of the ancient “diavlos” event of 2 x 192.27 m.

The middle-distance or semi endurance events include:
The 800 m event. This distance combines speed and endurance as well as tactics with athletes completing two laps of the stadium. 
A general view of the men’s 1.500 m in class 54 during the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney. © Sean Garnsworthy/AllsportThe 1,500 m event. Many 800 m athletes also compete in the 1,500 m since these two events require similar abilities.
The endurance events include:
The 5,000 m event. This event is similar to the “Dolikhos” of the ancient Olympic Games which consisted of twenty-five laps of the stadium (approximately 4,800 m).
The 10,000 m event. It is the longest distance run inside the stadium.
The relay events consist of the:
4 x 100 m event and
4 x 400 m event

Relay events can be traced to the ancient custom of sending messages via a series of couriers (skytalodromi or ‘runners with a message stick’). Each courier handed the stick over to the next until its destination was safely reached. In the relay event there are four runners from each country. Each runner covers a part of the distance before handing over the baton to the next runner. Changeovers have special rules and techniques and must be made within a specified area.

Jean Driscoll of USA celebrates winning gold in the women’s Marathon in class 54 during the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games. © Nick Wilson/AllsportMen’s and Women’s Marathon constitutes the Paralympic Games road events. The Marathon is run over public roads. In 2004 the Marathon will be run on the 26 September on its historic course (42,195 m), starting in the town Marathonas and finishing in the Panathinaiko Stadium.

The rules and regulations governing Olympic Games track events are also valid for the Paralympic Games, with certain variations per class. The most important ones are the following:

In classes 32 to 34 (athletes with cerebral palsy) and 51 to 54 (athletes with spinal cord injuries), athletes compete in a special competition wheelchair which must comply with certain specifications. More specifically, it must have two large wheels of up to 70 cm in diameter and at least one smaller wheel of maximum 50 cm diameter. Furthermore, in the 800 m events and over, the starter can interrupt the event and declare a restart (recall) if there is a collision during the first 200 meters of the event. In all events above 800 meters, in the 4 x 400 m relay and in the marathon, runners must wear a helmet. Finally, during a event the runner who follows behind bears the responsibility of overtaking. The runner who leads must not obstruct or block the way of his or her fellow athlete, from the moment that the front wheels of the runner who is following behind appear.

In classes 11 and 12 (blind), the runners are allowed to have assistants/accompanying persons on the Field of Play. The assistants wear a brightly colored waist-coat (gilet) so they can be distinguished from the blind runners. From the 100m to the 400m event, class 11 and 12 athletes compete along with an assistant (guide), in two lanes – one for the blind runner and one for his or her assistant. Under no circumstances is the guide allowed to lead ahead of the athlete. If the guide finishes in front of the blind runner, the athlete is disqualified. Finally, runners of class 11 must wear a blindfold on their eyes in all events up to 1,500 m inclusive.

In classes 35 - 38 (athletes with cerebral palsy) and 42 - 46 (athletes with amputations or other physical disabilities), it is not compulsory for the runners to observe the four supporting points at the starting line or to use starting blocks.


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This site was last updated 04/30/12