Bladerunner Mitch Joynt running on track on sunny day
Bladerunner Mitch Joynt competes in New Zealand

What is Para athletics?

Para athletics is the sport of athletics for people with a range of impairments. Para athletes compete in a range of track, road or field events.

What disciplines are there in Para athletics?

Para athletics disciplines include:

  • Track and road: sprinting, middle distance, long distance, marathon and relay races
  • Jumps: high jump, long jump, triple jump
  • Throws: discus, shot put, javelin, club throw – an event that is unique to Para athletics

Who can compete in Para athletics?

Para athletics events are held for men and women over a range of classifications and disciplines at the Paralympic Games and Virtus Global Games. Broadly speaking the classification categories are divided into six different types of impairment – visually impaired, intellectually impaired, cerebral palsy and brain trauma, short stature, limb deficiencies and impaired muscle power/impaired range of movement. Some Para athletes compete in wheelchairs, some with prostheses, while those who are visually impaired receive guidance from a sighted guide.

In Para athletics each event consists of a prefix T (track) or F (field) and a number that indicates which of the events the sport class applies to. Read more about classification in Para sport.

Sports technology in Para athletics

Sports technology is advancing at a rapid pace. This allows Para athletes to use assistive devices to access a greater range of athletic events. Para athletes with trunk and lower limb impairments use wheelchairs. Amputees use prosthetic devices for for track and road events and sometimes also for field events.

Para athletes with vision impairments competing in track and road events may use tethers to link with a sighted guide. Acoustic devices (or a sighted ’caller‘) may be used to indicate such things as the take-off position in jumping and throwing events.

History of Para athletics

1952The first Para athletics competition took place at the inaugural International Stoke Mandeville Games. Wheelchair racing was one of eight sports which featured on the programme.
1960Para athletics was one of eight sports to feature at the inaugural Paralympic Games staged in Rome. All 25 Para athletics events on the programme (13 men and 12 women) were field events.
1964Track events were introduced into the Para athletics programme at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo. A total of 42 Para athletic events were included in the Games programme.
1976As the growth of Para athletics expanded, the Toronto 1976 Paralympic Games witnessed some 207 Para athletics events on the programme.
1988The Korean capital of Seoul played host to the first Paralympic Games to take place in the same host city as the Olympic Games.
1994The birth of the IPC Athletics World Championships in Berlin. The event is now a biennial competition.
2012Some 1,100 athletes competed across 170 events at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
2015A total of 1,230 athletes competed at the 2015 IPC Athletics World Championships in Doha.
2016New Zealand Para athletes won 9 medals at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
20194 athletics competitors are part of the first NZ delegation at the INAS Global Games (now called Virtus Global Games).
2021New Zealand Para athletes won 7 medals at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.

Para athletics in New Zealand

Over 70 Paralympians have represented New Zealand in Para athletics, making it New Zealand’s most popular Para sport at the Paralympic Games. Another competitive pathway for New Zealand Para athletes specifically with an intellectual impairment is the Virtus Global Games.

Meet New Zealand’s Para athletes.

The Para athletics programme in New Zealand is delivered by Athletics New Zealand.

Para athletics is currently delivered widely at the national level. Register with Paralympics New Zealand via the link below to get involved as an athlete, coach or volunteer.