The Tokyo Paralympic Games will be held from August 24 – September 5, 2021. These events will feature six broad Paralympics categories: amputee, cerebral palsy, intellectual disability, wheelchair, vision impairment, and “other." For a list of the 22 Paralympic sports featured this year, check out part one of this blog post. Competitors will use racing wheelchairs for events that traditionally involve “running,” including the wheelchair division for athletes competing in athletics and triathlon. For para-cycling, there are divisions that use custom, adaptive cycles. These competitions are reserved for competitors who are either unable to use their legs, or who experience lower limb loss. There are a few other sports that require sport-specific wheelchairs, including: wheelchair basketball, tennis, fencing, and rugby.
Athletes use different kinds of sport-specific wheelchairs and hand cycles, depending on the sport. These include:
Racing wheelchairs are used for track and marathon competitions, as well as the “running” portion of the triathlon.
Custom arm-powered handcycles are used for both the para-cycling event, and the cycling portion of the triathlon. There are two designs, recumbent and kneeling, which are designed to maximize the different abilities of each athlete.
Fencing wheelchairs are locked into place and have certain armrest requirements. Competitors wear the same safety equipment as Olympic fencers, and use the same electronic scoring system. And based on their functional ability, athletes compete in either Category A or B.
Tennis wheelchairs have a lot of maneuverability, which means that they’re quick, and that they can turn fast. These design choices are important for the athletes to get to the ball as quickly as possible, while propelling and holding a tennis racket at the same time!
Basketball wheelchairs are also built for speed. Since it is a team sport, players must be able to maneuver in tight areas, especially near the basket.
Rugby wheelchairs are built for wheelchair-to-wheelchair contact. Depending on the athletes’ classification, and whether they play offense or defense, the wheelchair designs can differ.
Customization: Whether it is for an individual sport competition, or for a team-based sport, each wheelchair is custom-built to maximize athletic performance and physical ability.
About the sports:
Track (Athletics): Athletes will be competing in the 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, 1500m, 5000m on the track, and also be running the marathon. Click here for the full schedule.
Para-cycling: These athletes are divided into separate categories: visually impaired, upper and lower limb loss, coordination deficits, and those with lower extremity, leg paralysis, or limb loss.
• Cyclists with visual impairment race on tandem cycles, with a sighted cycler seated in front.
• Athletes, who can use a “standard” bicycle, compete in five sport classes: C1-C5. The lower the class number, the more the athlete experiences mobility limitations in their lower and/or upper limbs.
• Tricycle athletes are divided into two classes, T1 and T2. The lower the class number, the more the athletes experience significant coordination impairments.
• Handcycling has five classifications: H1-5, where lower numbers indicate restrictions in both upper and lower limbs, and higher numbers indicate restrictions only in lower limbs. Hand cycles. used in the H1-4 divisions, feature a reclining or lay-down position. H5 athletes use a handcycle in the kneeling position because they have less impairment and have more trunk musculature.
Wheelchair Tennis: Wheelchair tennis has an Open Men’s Division, Open Women’s Division and a Quad Division. They play singles and doubles matches, which follow the same rules as stand-up tennis. However, players get two bounces to return the ball, instead of one.
Wheelchair basketball: Wheelchair basketball is a fast-paced game, played by teams of five players. Like stand-up basketball, the object is to shoot the ball into the opposing team’s basket.
In addition to the five players on the court, each team also has seven substitutes. The match takes place over four periods, which are ten minutes long. Players are assigned points as their classification, ranging from 1-4. There are also 0.5 classes for “exceptional” cases, reserved for athletes who don’t easily fit into one class. The 4.5 category is reserved for players with the least amount of limitations. Classification is based on the players’ ability to perform certain actions that are required to play the sport, such as: pushing, pivoting, shooting, rebounding, dribbling, passing, and catching.
The points system was designed to keep this competition fair and balanced. At any time, 14.0 is the maximum number of total points that is allowed on court. This number includes the total number points of all five, active players, combined. If a coach allows the team to have over 14.0 points, that team will incur a technical foul on the bench.
Wheelchair rugby: Wheelchair rugby is similar to wheelchair basketball because it also uses a point system. The sport was originally named murderball, but is now called quad rugby in the United States. This name is based on a requirement: all wheelchair rugby players must have disabilities that include some loss of function, in at least three limbs. Although most players have spinal cord injuries, players can play if they have multiple amputations, neurological disorders, or other medical conditions. Players are assigned a functional level in points, and each team’s total can’t be higher than eight points.
Wheelchair rugby is played indoors on a hardwood court, and physical contact between wheelchairs is an integral part of the game. The rules include elements from wheelchair basketball, ice hockey, handball, and rugby union.
Where to watch?
NBC Universal will air a record 1,200 hours of Paralympic coverage from the Tokyo Games, including the first NBC primetime broadcasts in history. Coverage presented by Toyota includes more than 200 TV hours between NBC, NBCSN, and the Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. It’ll also be streamed on Peacock, as well as NBC Sports digital platforms, totaling more than 1,000 hours.
NBC’s primetime coverage will feature top stories and moments from competition, plus athlete profiles and interviews with a focus on Team USA.
NBCSN airs the Opening Ceremony and Closing Ceremony live, plus daily coverage from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. ET from Tokyo, which will be 13 hours ahead of U.S. Eastern time.
The Olympic Channel will show live coverage, and will also air extensive replays.
NBCOlympics.com, the NBC Sports app, and Peacock will live stream all TV coverage.
NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app will also show: archery, badminton, boccia, canoe, cycling, equestrian, goalball, judo, marathons, rowing, shooting, sitting volleyball, soccer, swimming, table tennis, track and field, triathlon, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby and wheelchair tennis.
Peacock will air medal round competition, including men’s and women’s wheelchair basketball, and women’s sitting volleyball. These events, as well as wheelchair rugby and marathon races, were won by the U.S. in Rio in 2016.
17-time Paralympic medalist Tatyana McFadden is on the hunt to qualify for her sixth Paralympic Games. Currently, she holds the record for most track and field gold medals by an American woman, both Olympic and Paralympic. On the men's side, look for Aaron Pike and Josh George! Click here to learn more.
Among the six athletes going to Tokyo, five of the U.S. Paralympians are returning from the previous competition.
Will Groulx (MH2) goes into Tokyo with four Paralympics under his belt. Though he competed in wheelchair rugby for his first three appearances, he won the road race in 2016. Not to mention that he also placed 2nd in the time trial and team relay.
Alicia Dana (WH3) also returned from Rio with some hardware, winning a silver medal in the time trial. She upgraded that to a gold medal from the most recent world championships, in 2019, where she also took second in the road race. Tokyo will be the third Paralympics for the 52-year-old.
After a dominating performance at the Team USA trials in June, Army veteran Tom Davis (MH4) is heading back to the Paralympics. He boasts the top time of any athlete, relative to their respective Tokyo qualification standard.
Four years ago in Rio, Oksana Masters (WH5) fell just short of the podium, finishing fourth in the road race and fifth in the time trial. The multi-sport star, who has won a combined eight Paralympic medals as a rower and Nordic skier will now have her opportunity to add to that in Tokyo.After finishing fourth in the road race in Rio, Freddy de los Santos (MH5-kneeling division) is headed back to the Paralympics with something to prove. De los Santos joined the Army after 9/11, losing his leg and sustaining a traumatic brain injury when his vehicle was attacked in Afghanistan. After struggling with depression and substance abuse, he discovered Para-cycling and now, at age 51, is headed to his second Paralympics.
Tokyo will be the first Paralympic games for para cyclist Ryan Pinney (MH3). After a pair of wins at April’s U.S. Paralympics Cycling Open, and his first world cup medal at a May event in Belgium, you could say that he’s coming in hot. Pinney is known for his flashy hand cycle, painted magenta and grey. It also features the initials of his daughter Addison’s, among other decorations. For more information on the U.S. team's cyclers, click here.
David Wagner, a four-time Paralympian and eight-time Paralympic medalist, has been one of the top names in the sport for close to 20 years. Wagner has earned a medal in singles and doubles events in the quad division, at each of his last four Paralympic Games. Click here for more info.
Nick Taylor, his doubles partner for the last four Games. Because he can’t propel a manual tennis wheelchair, Nick competes in a power wheelchair. In fact, he’s the only power wheelchair athlete in the sport. Each of these quad athletes secures their tennis rackets to their arms by using a special kind of tape.
The U.S. men’s and women’s teams travel to Tokyo as the defending gold medalists from Rio. In the men’s quest for Paralympic gold, key players will include returning gold medalists Steve Serio, Matt Scott, Jake Williams and Josh Turek. Click here to learn more.
Trooper Johnson, the U.S. women’s national team head coach, believes this year’s team is one of the strongest squads ever. The USA’s women’s team for wheelchair basketball will include first-time Paralympians Rose Hollermann and Abby Dunkin. Both have had time to develop and mesh with veteran players like Becca Murray and Natalie Schneider. Click here to meet the members of the U.S. Women's Basketball Team.
Paul Schulte will be a featured commentator for wheelchair basketball. He played in multiple competitions for the USA’s Paralympic men's wheelchair basketball team, and now lives in our home state of Florida.
Wheelchair rugby: The U.S. Paralympic Wheelchair Rugby Team has just one thing to focus on: Getting back on top of the medal stand.Team USA has the most wheelchair rugby gold medals since the sport’s Paralympic debut in 1996, but is seeking its first championship since the Paralympic Games Beijing 2008. Click here to meet the team.
Athlete highlights: click here to find your favorite athletes
Detailed Classification information for track and field:
You may be wondering: what do all of the letters and numbers mean in track and field?
Classes are given a number. Each number is prefixed with either a ‘T,’ which stands for ‘track,’ or an ‘F’ for ‘field.’
• Impairments are split into groups. For example, visually impaired athletes are in the tens (T11, T12 and T13), and athletes with coordination impairments are in the thirties (T31-38).
• These numbers also represent every athlete’s level of impairment. The lower the number is within each impairment type, the more severe the impairment.
Running and jumping (16 classes)
• T11-13 (Visual impairment)
• T20 (Intellectual impairment)
• T35-38 (Co-ordination impairments)
• T40-41 (Short stature)
• T42-44 (Lower limb affected by limb deficiency, leg length difference, impaired muscle power or impaired range of movement)
• T45-47 (Upper limbs affected by limb deficiency, impaired muscle power or impaired range of movement)
Wheelchair racing and field events (7 classes): ’T,’ which stands for ‘track,’ or an ‘F’ for ‘field.’
• T-34 (Co-ordination impairments)
• T51-54 (Limb deficiency, leg length difference, impaired muscle power, or impaired range of movement)
Field Standing throws (15 classes)
• F11-13 (Visual impairment)
• F20 (Intellectual impairment)
• F35-38 (Coordination impairments)
• F40-41 (Short stature)
• F42-44 (Lower limb(s) deficiency, leg length difference, impaired muscle power, or impaired range of motion)
• F45-46 (Upper limb(s) deficiency, impaired muscle power, or impaired range of motion
Field Seated throws (11 classes)
• F31-34 (Coordination impairments)• F51-57 (Limb deficiency, leg length difference, impaired muscle power, or impaired range of motion)