Competition at the Highest Levels

Track and Field

Track and Field

The most complicated of all the competition categories, track and field – called “Athletics” internationally – is actually multiple sports: sprints, relay races, long jumps, javelin throws, and more.

Athletes from all disability groups compete in track and field, divided first by disability, such as blindness/visual impairment, amputation, cerebral palsy, or spinal cord injury, and then further by levels of ability. In some races, competitors use wheelchairs, in others, prosthetic limbs, or sighted guides tethered at the wrist to blind runners racing to the finish line.

Track events include sprints (100m, 200m, 400m), middle distances (800m, 1500m), long distances (5,000m, 10,000m) and relay races (4X100m, 4X400). The only road event in track is the marathon.

Field events include jumping (high jump, long jump, the triple jump) and throwing (discus, shot put, and javelin).

• Track and Field is the largest Paralympic event. Well over 1,000 athletes are expected to compete for its 170 gold medals.
• American Jeremy Campbell is the defending gold medalist in Pentathlon. He set 4 personal bests in the 5 events.

Top Contenders:
• China won the most medals in 2008, with Australia a distant second.
• Oscar Pistorius of South Africa is a heavy favorite in men’s sprinting – but American Jerome Singleton beat him at 100m during the World Championships in 2011. Team USA also has strong contenders in many of the other track and field events.

Paralympics 2012 Competition: Aug. 31 – Sept. 9

Athlete Classifications

In track and field, athletes are grouped by disability, such as blindness, visual impairment, amputation, cerebral palsy, or spinal cord injury. They are further divided by levels of functionality.

A “T” or an “F” indicates if the sport is track or field, and a numbering system refers to disability categories.

Class Disability


Athletes with different levels of visual impairment. Blind/visually impaired runners, who have a sighted guide, are track class 11. Athletes in field class 11 sports such as long or high jump use acoustic signals (electronic noises, clapping, voices).


Athletes with intellectual impairment.


Athletes with different levels of cerebral palsy, both wheelchair (32 - 34) and ambulant (35 - 38).


Ambulant athletes with different levels of amputations and impairments, as well as athletes with multiple sclerosis, dwarfism, or disabilities that don’t fit into other categories and are grouped as “les autres,” the French word for “the others.” Athletes in classes 42-44 wear a prosthesis to compete.


Wheelchair athletes with different levels of spinal cord injuries and amputations.

Back To Sports

More From PBS