[Paralympic Sports Introduction] Watching the games is much more fun once you understand their appeal!


The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games are finally about to start. Here we introduce the rules and highlights for all of the 22 competitions that will be held, each with their own unique appeal.

At the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, athletes who have undergone a rigid daily training regimen will challenge their limits, aiming to obtain the best results possible. There is a total of 22 competitions to be held, ranging from those whose rules are close to the ones for able-bodied persons, such as Para Athletics and Wheelchair Tennis, to those specific to the Paralympics, such as Boccia and Goalball.

Each of the Paralympic Games has a unique appeal, be it in the graceful technique required to utilize the wheelchairs and bicycles, in the strategic aspects of forming teams while making the most of each athlete’s physical capabilities, or in the sense of speed and in the dynamic movements brought out by the very restrictions to the rules.In watching the actual games on television, those who have never watched Paralympic Sports before would be surprised at the intensity of the competition.

With that in mind, we would like to present here the rules and highlights for the Paralympic Sports.

Discover their unique appeal! An introduction to the Paralympic Sports

The sport is divided into three categories: “Recurve - Open”, which uses recurve bows, “Compound - Open”, which uses bows with mechanical pulleys at the top and bottom, and “W1”, limited to athletes with impairment in all four limbs. The various styles adapted to different types of disability are a highlight of this sport, as some athletes may need to draw the bow with their mouth or hold it with their feet. The key to achieving a high score lies in effectively using the bow as an extension of one’s body.

Athletics (Track)
The track events of Para Athletics include short, medium and long-distance races as well as relays, and are divided into several classes according to the type of impairment, such as for athletes with visual impairment or with impairment affecting the four limbs. Among the sport’s highlights we can cite the visual impairment classes, in some of which athletes may run alongside a guide runner; the limb impairment classes, in which prostheses may be used; and the wheelchair classes, which use special wheelchairs customized for competition, operated solely by the athlete’s arms and upper body strength.

Athletics (Field)
Field events include both “jumping” and “throwing” events. The former is divided into two categories — high jump and long jump —, while the latter is divided into four — shot put, javelin throw, discus throw, and club throw, a Paralympics-specific event. In visual impairment classes, athletes may be accompanied by an escort or rely on the assistance of a caller, who provides information such as the direction in which they need to run or the location of the take-off point during competition, either by clapping or using vocal cues.

Athletics (Marathon)
The marathon is an extremely demanding sport. The guide runners who accompany athletes in visual impairment classes, or the special wheelchairs (called racer) designed for competition and used in wheelchair classes may as well be regarded as an extension of the athletes’ body. It’s essential for guide runners and athletes to work in tandem, coordinating form and pace, for example. For athletes using racing wheelchairs, the most important thing is to have the exceptional endurance required to reach the finish line using only the strength of their arms.

Badminton is played in the Paralympics in singles and doubles events, with the former being divided into two wheelchair classes and four standing classes for a total of six classes, and the latter being divided into only one wheelchair and one standing class. In the wheelchair singles events, one of the highlights is the skillful manner in which athletes operate their wheelchair. In the standing classes, look out for the spectacular smash hits, which display the strength of the athletes’ upper body.

Boccia is a sport specific to the Paralympics, also regarded as “curling on the ground” due to its status as a game of similarly high strategy. Athletes compete by throwing six balls aimed at the white “jack”, trying to place as many balls as possible close to it. The abundance of different strategies helps characterize this sport, with new tactics being created at a frequent basis. Its unpredictability is one of its highlights, as it’s often difficult to know the result of a match until the very end.

Canoe Sprint
Canoe events may either use the “kayak”, a boat that is 5.2 m long and has a minimum width of 50 cm, or the “va’a”, a boat approximately 2 m longer than the kayak and fitted with an outrigger (float). While the kayak is propelled placing a single paddle alternately on each side of the boat, the “va’a” is propelled by using a single paddle exclusively on the left or right side of the boat. In either event, be sure to look out for the strong paddling techniques used by athletes to become one with their canoe.

Cycling Track
In cycling track events there are four classes for both men and women, which are further divided according to impairment severity. Athletes with lower limb impairment race using hand cycles; those with cerebral palsy, who experience difficulty maintaining balance, use tricycles; and those with visual impairment compete on tandems with a second cycler. Track events are characterized by the incredible sense of speed, as athletes can even exceed speeds of 60 km/h.

Cycling Road
In cycling road race events, similarly to track events, there are four classes for both men and women that are further divided according to impairment severity. Competitors may use hand cycles, tricycles or tandems depending on the type of disability. Since road races are contested over long distances, in addition to athletes having to form strategies and properly pace themselves while taking into account stamina, they must also remain aware that weather and road conditions play a key role in the competition.

In equestrian events, athletes compete based on accuracy of walk and beauty of movement, for example, while performing predefined movements on the riding ground. Athletes with either limb or visual impairment may compete, and no distinction is made between male and female individuals. There are three event categories, divided into five grades according to the athletes’ type and severity of impairment. A strong partnership between rider and horse is essential for attaining a high score. The smooth and elegant movements shown serve only as testimony to the trust and bond shared between them.

Football 5-a-side
Football 5-a-side is played by teams of five athletes, including four outfield players who are completely blind and one goalkeeper. The pitch is of the same size as a futsal court, and is surrounded by fences to keep the ball from going out. Athletes rely on “acoustic cues” to play, such as the sound of the ball and the voice of their guide. Although matches are held in a silent environment, excited cheers still fill the air each time one of the teams scores a goal.

Goalball is played by teams of three athletes, who must compete for goals in a 24-minute match. The court is the same size as a volleyball’s, and all players must wear eyeshades to cover their eyes. Athletes rely on all types of sound to form a game plan, such as those emitted by the ball, which contains bells in its interior, or by footsteps and any other impacts against the floor. The inability to see only makes strategies even more interesting.

Judo is a combat sport for athletes with a visual impairment. Matches are four minutes long, with men and women competing under different weight categories. Both competitors must be gripping their opponent’s sleeve and lapel at the start of a match, and this initial state must be resumed in the case that both hands release the grip. Focus must be maintained at every moment in such a sport, where an athlete can, through touch, sense the finest movements of their rival as well as the amount of force exerted by them, and in which even the opponent’s breathing can be used as a cue to unleash a powerful technique.

In powerlifting, athletes with lower limb impairment test their strength competing in different weight classes for men and women. Athletes press the bar upwards while lying on their back on a bench, and must sustain a controlled position until the referee gives an audible signal, “rack”. This sport tests the power, technique, and short-term focus of the athletes, who often can lift more than three times their own bodyweight using just their upper body.

There are three different rowing events, each divided according to severity of impairment and type of boat. Athletes competing in the “PR1 single sculls” row the boat using only their arms and shoulders. In the “PR2 double sculls”, a pair of athletes of mixed gender row together using their torso, arms, and shoulders. In the “PR3 coxed four” events, two pairs of male and female athletes — who can also use their legs in addition to torso, arms, and shoulders — are joined by a coxswain to form a crew of five rowers.

In shooting events, athletes compete for points using either “rifles” or “pistols” to shoot. Rifle events require athletes to shoot from a “standing”, “kneeling” or “prone” position, although those who use a wheelchair may shoot while sitting on it in any of the cases. Pistol events are divided into categories in which the athlete holds the gun with their own hands (SH1) and categories in which a stand is used (SH2). Look out for the athletes’ technique as well as for their supreme level of concentration.

Sitting Volleyball
The court for sitting volleyball is approximately a third of the size of the able-bodied version’s, while the net’s height is kept at around 1 m. Impairment is classified as either severe or less severe, and only one of the six players on court are allowed to have a less severe impairment. Athletes are not allowed to lift the buttocks off the floor while playing, except when receiving. With shorter distances creating quick-paced matches, the key to victory lies in fast reflexes and precise judgment.

Swimming events include several styles according to the type of impairment. In order to avoid differences in athletic abilities, events are divided into a large number of categories based on type and severity of impairment. There are also relay categories for different types of impairment. Athletes generate the maximum amount of propulsion possible using only their body, without any prosthetic limbs. Look out for each athlete’s unique style, created by them after a long process of trial and error.

Table Tennis
Table tennis events are divided into three main categories — wheelchair, standing and intellectual impairment —, which are further divided into many others according to the type and level of impairment. However, as long as the effect on performance is equivalent, athletes with different impairments may also compete in the same category. In this sport, a variety of styles clash against each other, as athletes may play using a cane or holding the racket in their mouth, for example.

In the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, taekwondo is being included for the first time as an official event. Men and women with upper limb impairment, or who are upper limb amputees, compete in three weight classes. Only kicks to the trunk count as valid attacks, while kicks to the head are not permitted. Athletes compete for points over three two-minute rounds, with points being awarded based on the types of technique used. Extremely potent kicks and defense techniques that brim with individuality are the highlights of this sport.

Triathlon is a sport of power and experience where balance and pacing may dictate the outcome, and which tests the athletes’ unwavering stamina as well as their ability to compete in three different elements. Three classes are defined for the Paralympics: seated, standing and visual impairment. Speed plays a larger role in the competition since race distances are short. This sport is characterized by its thrilling races, which require constant focus.

Wheelchair Basketball
There is no double dribble rule in wheelchair basketball, but players may push the wheelchair only up to two times. Athletes are awarded a score between 1.0 and 4.5 points according to the severity of their impairment, and teams must be formed so that the total score of the five players on court does not exceed 14.0. Team composition based on players with different levels of impairment, in addition to skillful teamwork shown between such players, are some of the sport’s highlights.

Wheelchair Fencing
Wheelchair fencing is played by athletes with lower limb impairment. Fencers battle using only their upper body, while remaining sit in a wheelchair that is fixed into a frame of the “piste”. There are three disciplines: foil, épée and sabre — as well as team events for épée and sabre. The speed and technique in sword handling are the highlights of this sport. Due to the short distance between competitors, even a fleeting exchange can decide a match.

Wheelchair Rugby
Wheelchair rugby, played by two teams with four players of mixed gender, is characterized by the use of two types of wheelchairs: offensive and defensive. The hard clashes between players are a highlight of this extremely intense sport, as sometimes athletes may even fall down during a match. Points are awarded when the player in possession of the ball crosses the try line. Players are assigned point values according to their physical impairment, and teams must be formed observing a predefined maximum value.

Wheelchair Tennis
In addition to the “singles” and “doubles” events, wheelchair tennis also includes “quad singles” and “quad doubles” events for athletes with relatively severe impairments. Rules are identical to those of tennis for able-bodied athletes, except for the fact that up to two bounces are allowed when returning the ball. The large variety of shots and the graceful manner in which athletes operate the wheelchair while holding the racket in one hand are the highlights of this sport.

A unique opportunity to see the Paralympians up close

Sir Philip Craven, former International Paralympic Committee President and current outside director of Toyota, stresses that the Paralympic Games are what allows us to “see completely new aspects of life”. He also affirms that all persons, whether they be the president of a company or a volunteer, are bound to feel inspired when watching the Paralympians, who have started their impossible many times during their lives.

The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games are a unique opportunity to see and come in close contact with the Paralympians. Do not let this chance to watch the event pass by.

Competition schedule and athlete information can be viewed here

Photo by Getty Images, AFP/Getty Images
*This article has been created using the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee sports introduction texts as reference.