London 2012: Paralympic sports explained

A guide to sports that feature in this year's Paralympics.

Afp August 22, 2012

LONDON: Here is a guide to the sports that feature in this year's Paralympics in London from August 29 to September 9.


Archery is one of the original Paralympic sports and featured in the inaugural 1960 Games in Rome.

The competition comprises seven individual and two team events. Athletes shoot from 70 metres (300 feet) at a 122cm-diameter (48-inch) target with 10 scoring zones.

China topped the medal table in Beijing four years ago with seven, followed by Britain (four) and South Korea (four).


The biggest sport in the Paralympics, with some 1,100 participants, athletics features lightning-quick sprinters with prostheses, powerful throwers, intellectual disability athletes and runners with sighted guides.

South Africa's "Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorius -- a triple gold medallist in Beijing -- is likely to be a major draw, having become the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics when he ran in the 400m heats and 4x400m final.

China won 77 track and field medals in 2008, including 38 gold -- three times as many as their nearest rivals Australia, South Africa and Britain.


Introduced as a competitive sport in the 1984 New York Paralympics, Boccia is a game of skill and accuracy played from a wheelchair by athletes with cerebral palsy, quadriplegia and other conditions affecting limb function.

The game, similar to bowls, is to land balls as close as possible to the target ball or "jack". It consists of four rounds in individual and pairs competitions and six in the team event.

Britain and Portugal are strong but Brazil and South Korea each won two golds in Beijing.


Involves visually impaired athletes, those with cerebral palsy and amputations, para-cyclists compete on bicycles, tricycles, tandems or hand cycles depending on their disability.

Events include track races like the sprint, individual pursuit and time trial to road races and road time trials for individuals and teams.

Britain's riders will be hoping to continue their gold rush from Beijing, although old rivals Australia as well as the United States and Germany are expected to challenge.


Open to athletes with any type of physical or visual impairment, equestrian events are mixed and grouped in five different categories: Grade 1A for the most severe impairment and Grade 4 for the least.

Dressage is a test of horsemanship skills, performing set movements and a freestyle routine to music. Riders win points for control, communication and athletic prowess.

Britain has swept the board in the last three Paralympics, with Lee Pearson, in his fourth Games, looking to maintain his 100 percent record.

Football 5-a-side

A Paralympic sport since Athens in 2004, five-a-side football is open to athletes with visual impairments.

Each game lasts 50 minutes and although the rules are similar to the non-disabled game, the ball makes a noise when it moves, there is no off-side and everyone apart from the goalkeepers uses eye shades to ensure fairness.

Brazil won gold in 2004 and 2008. Argentina, China and Spain are the main challengers.

Football 7-a-side

Introduced in 1984, seven-a-side football is for players with cerebral palsy and is similar to the able-bodied game.

Matches last 30 minutes, the playing surface is smaller, there are no offsides and players can take throw-ins with one hand.

Ukraine are the current champions but the Netherlands are strong contenders.


Requiring lightning reflexes and razor-sharp hearing, goalball made its debut in the Toronto Paralympics in 1976 but was initially devised to rehabilitate visually impaired veterans from World War II.

Games consist of two halves of 12 minutes, with two teams of three players each wearing blackout masks on court. The aim is to roll the ball, which has a bell in it to help orientate players, into the opposite goal.

China are the current Olympic champions and will face a tough test from world champions Lithuania.


A Paralympic sport since Seoul in 1988, women's categories were introduced in Athens in 2004.

Open to athletes with visual impairments in several weight categories, contests last five minutes. The judoka with the higher number of points wins.

China is strong, having won seven medals in Beijing.


A stunning display of strength, in which athletes can lift up to three times their own body weight.

The powerlifting is a bench press competition. Athletes have to extend their arms within 20 degrees of full extension.

China won 14 medals in Beijing, including nine golds. Egypt finished on the podium 10 times.


Making only its second appearance at the Paralympics, rowing is divided into four boat classes and is open to male and female athletes of varying disabilities.

Races take place over 1,000m, with rowers using specially adapted boats.

Britain topped the medal table in Beijing with two golds and a bronze, ahead of China and Italy (one gold each) and the United States (one silver, one bronze).


Open to athletes with physical impairment, classification is based on four factors: stability, hand function, mobility and vision.

There are three categories: 2.4mR, SKUD 18 and Sonar classes, featuring one, two and three sailors per boat respectively. Crews can be mixed, except the SKUD, which must have a female sailor on board.

Germany, the USA and Canada are strong.


Shooters aim at a target of 10 concentric rings at a distance of 10, 25 or 50m from a standing, kneeling or prone position.

The mixed competition is divided into eight rifle events and four pistol events, with three athletes per country in each event and a total of five in all events.

Britain have a good record but so do South Korea, who won nine medals in Beijing, with Sweden bagging four and Russia seven.

Sitting volleyball

Sitting volleyball is played on a 10m x 6m court with a lower net. Games are best of five sets, with the first team to reach 25 points with at least a two-point lead winning a game.

The game involves two teams with six on the court at a time. Athletes have to keep their pelvis on the ground at all times. Service blocks are allowed.

Iran are the reigning men's champions while China are looking to retain their women's title.


The second-biggest sport in the Paralympics. Competitors are classified according to the type and extent of their disability, including learning difficulties.

The undisputed star of the pool is South Africa's Natalie du Toit, who is hanging up her goggles after a stellar career.

The United States won 44 medals in Beijing, including 17 gold, followed by China (52) and Ukraine (43). Britain won 41.

Table tennis

Open to athletes with all physical impairments apart from the visually impaired, players can compete in standing or sitting classes. Athletes with an intellectual impairment are also allowed.

The format involves men's and women's competitions in individual, doubles or team events. Matches consist of five sets of 11 points each in a best-of-five format.

China are the kings and queens of the sport, winning more than half of the 24 gold medals on offer in Beijing.

Wheelchair basketball

One of the Paralympics' most popular sports, wheelchair basketball involves two teams of five playing on a regulation court with standard 10ft-high (three-metre) hoops.

Basketball is open to athletes of all levels of physical ability, with players rated between 1 and 4.5 depending on their functional ability. Teams must not exceed 14 points on court at any time.

Australia are Olympic men's champions with the USA winning gold in the women's.

Wheelchair fencing

Open to men and women with amputations, spinal-cord injuries and cerebral palsy. Athletes' wheelchairs are fastened to the piste during competition and the distance between them fixed.

Points are scored by hitting target areas on the opponent with their foil, epee or sabre.

China and Hong Kong topped the medals in Beijing, with France, Poland and Ukraine currently the best in Europe.

Wheelchair rugby

Also known as "murderball", wheelchair rugby is a no-holds-barred mix of wheelchair basketball, ice hockey, handball and rugby. Four players per side are allowed on court at one time for four periods of eight minutes each.

Points are scored by crossing the opponents' goal line with two wheels on the floor and the ball in the players' hands. Players in possession have to bounce the ball or pass within 10 seconds of receiving it.

USA are defending champions after beating Australia in 2008. Canada, where the game originated, are also contenders.

Wheelchair tennis

Introduced in Barcelona in 1992, wheelchair tennis follows able-bodied rules although the ball is allowed to bounce twice. Categories are for players with disabilities in three or all limbs (quad) or one or both lower limbs (open).

Competitors have to have a permanent or substantial loss of function in one or both legs and can compete in singles or doubles in best-of-three set matches.

The Netherlands have won 22 wheelchair tennis medals but the USA, France and Australia are strong.


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