Speed, strength, power and stamina are displayed during the Athletics competition.
Some athletes compete in wheelchairs or throwing frames, others with prostheses, and others with the guidance of a sighted companion.
There are various different strands to the competition: track, field and road. Some athletes compete in wheelchairs or throwing frames, others with prostheses, and others with the guidance of a sighted companion.
Friday 31 August – Sunday 9 September
Number of medal events
There are 170 medal events in total: 96 track, 70 field, and four road.
Number of competitors
1,100 – 740 men, 360 women
Each country has been given a quota, which is limited to 80 athletes across all events.
To ensure competition is fair, athletes are grouped into classes according to how much their impairment impacts on their event-specific performance.
Classes 11–13 are for athletes with a visual impairment.
Class 20 is for athletes with an intellectual impairment.
Classes 31–38 are for athletes with cerebral palsy, with classes 31 to 34 using a wheelchair to compete.
Classes 40–46 are for athletes with a loss of limb or limb deficiency.
Classes 51–58 cover wheelchair racers or field athletes who throw from a seated position.
In each class, the first digit indicates the nature of an athlete’s impairment, and the second indicates the amount of functional ability the athlete has. The lower the second number, the greater the impact on their ability to compete.
A T or an F before each two-digit number shows whether the athlete is competing in a track event or a field event.
Field of play
The athletics track at the Olympic Stadium is a 400m oval – for all track events the finish line is in the same place, at the end of the ‘home’ straight. Within and around the track are the fields of play for the field events – High Jump landing areas, Long Jump and Triple Jump pits, circles for the Discus Throw, Club Throw, Shot Put and seated javelin and Javelin Throw runway for ambulatory throwers.
The Mall, near Buckingham Palace in central London, provides the start and finish for the Marathon, which is run through the streets of London as far east as Tower Hill.
History of Athletics at the Paralympics
Part of the Paralympic programme since the first Games in Rome in 1960, the sport of Athletics has produced some of the most iconic images in the history of the Paralympic movement, with legendary figures such as Louise Sauvage, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson and Oscar Pistorius making their names before a worldwide audience.
There are three main strands to the Athletics competition:
1. Track events: divided into sprints, middle distance, long distance events and Relays.
2. Field events: divided into throwing and jumping.
3. Road events: the Marathon.
The majority of races on the track start with heats, with the fastest athletes progressing to semi-finals and the best athlete eventually winning in the final. No track event will have more than three stages – heats, semi-finals, final.
All field events are straight finals, although in some seated throw competitions, in which large numbers of athletes are entered, the athletes start their competition in two groups and the best eight compete together for their final three trials.
Athletics events need a large number of officials. These include starters, judges, jumps and throws referees, photo finish operators, umpires and many others needed to ensure that the events run smoothly, to time and that athletes compete within the rules.
Keys to success
Whilst the concept of most athletics disciplines is simple: running faster, throwing further or jumping a greater distance, the winning margins are usually tiny. A fraction of a second or a centimetre is often the difference between a gold medal and coming fourth. Athletics is such a technical sport that every aspect of an athlete’s performance must be perfect on the day to ensure they finish ahead of their rivals.
Breaking the rules
Athletes across all events can be penalised for a variety of infringements – a false start on the track or a foot fault in the jumps, a disallowed changeover in the relays, or an illegal technique in the throws.
Wheelchair athletes will be penalised for illegal overtaking, and visually impaired athletes who use a guide runner must cross the finish line before their guide or they will be disqualified. There are quite complex rules about the way seated throwers must complete their attempt.
For more information on the rules and competition format, please refer to the website of the International Paralympic Committee
Cage: The area from which competitors throw a discus or club. The mouth of the cage is 6m wide, and sits 7m in front of the centre of the throwing circle.
Countback: The process used to determine the winner of any field event in which two or more athletes are tied.
Guide runner: Visually impaired runners use a guide runner, usually someone from their own country, to assist them in completing the course of a race safely and as quickly as possible by running alongside them during the race and guiding them to stay in their lane.
Lifting: When throwing from a throwing frame, seated athletes sometimes finish in a standing position before releasing the implement. This is called lifting, and is against the rules if the athlete doesn’t have a foot on the ground.
Points score: In field events that are contested by athletes from different classification groups, a points score will be used to determine the winners.
If you want to find out about Athletics in your country, including clubs, facilities and coaching schemes, check the website of your National Governing Body. To find out how you can get involved in Athletics in the UK, go to thegamesandbeyond.com
For more information on the Athletics competition at London 2012 and the rules of the sport, go to the website of the International Paralympic Committee, governing body for the sport.