A Quick Guide to Para Athletics

By Raymond Martin

May 27, 2017

Topics: Wheelchair Sports

The Rio 2016 Games have concluded and we are about to start a new four-year cycle to prepare for the 2020 Games in Tokyo. With the seemingly endless list of classifications, it’s important to remind ourselves of the basics of the sport. Here is a quick and easy guide to watch or compete in the largest sport at the Summer Paralympic Games.



The classification system has three basic elements to it, one letter followed by two numbers. An example classification would be T52. The letter can either be T for track events, or F for field events. The first number indicates the type of disability the athlete has. This number ranges from 1 to 5, with each number describing a different category of disabilities. Each digit represents the following: 1-visual impairment, 2-intellectual disability, 3-cerebral palsy, 4-limb impairment (such as amputees or short stature), 5-wheelchair users. The second number describes the degree of impairment. The range of this number varies by class, but the overall range is from 0 to 8. The lower the second digit, the higher the impairment. For example, a T53 athlete generally has more of an impairment than a T54 athlete. With every rule comes exceptions, but in general, here is what the classification system looks like when you put all three elements together:


T/F 11-13: Runners/field athletes with visual impairment

T/F 20: Runners/field athletes with an intellectual disability

T/F 32-34: Track/field athletes with cerebral palsy who use a wheelchair/throwing chair

T/F 35-38: Runners/field athletes with cerebral palsy

T/F 40-41: Runners/field athletes with short stature

T/F 42-44: Runners/field athletes with lower limb amputation

T/F 45-47: Runners/field athletes with upper limb amputation

T51-54: Track athletes who use a wheelchair

F51-57: Field athletes who use a throwing chair


It’s worth mentioning that disability is a spectrum and with it comes exceptions to every rule. You may see a T46 who has an upper limb impairment, but the limb is not amputated. It’s exceptions like these that make the sport exciting and confusing at the same time. That’s all you need to know to get started in the sport.

Traveling in a Wheelchair 101


Raymond Martin

Raymond Martin

Raymond Martin, 23, is a Paralympic track and field athlete. Raymond is a sponsored athlete through Team Invacare.

Submit A Comment