What do the letters and number mean (paralympics)?

If you have been looking at the Paralympic schedule or at bios of athletes, you may have noticed that events have additional letters and numbers attached. Here is what they mean:

To ensure competition is fair and equal, all Paralympic sports have a system in place which ensures that winning is determined by skill, fitness, power, endurance, tactical ability and mental focus, the same factors that account for success in sport for able bodied athletes.

This process is called classification and its purpose is to minimise the impact of impairments on the activity (sport discipline). Having the impairment thus is not sufficient. The impact on the sport must be proved, and in each Paralympic sport, the criteria of grouping athletes by the degree of activity limitation resulting from the impairment are named ‘Sport Classes’. Through classification, it is determined which athletes are eligible to compete in a sport and how athletes are grouped together for competition. This, to a certain extent, is similar to grouping athletes by age, gender or weight.

Classification is sport-specific because an impairment affects the ability to perform in different sports to a different extent. As a consequence, an athlete may meet the criteria in one sport, but may not meet the criteria in another sport.

Athletics Classification

In Athletics the sport class consists of a prefix “T” for Track and “F” for Field and indicates for which events the sport class applies.

Sport Classes T/F11-13: Visual impairment

The three sport classes 11, 12 and 13 are allocated to athletes with varying degrees of visual impairment, with sport class 11 including athletes with the lowest vision and sport class 13 including athletes with the best vision meeting the minimum criteria. All athletes in the T11 sport class run with a guide runner and are blindfolded. Athletes in sport class T12 may also chose to run with a guide.

Sport Class T/F 20: Intellectual impairment

Athletes in this class are diagnosed with intellectual impairment and meet sport-specific minimum impairment criteria in 1,500m, long jump or shot put, respectively.

Sport Classes T32-38 and F31-38

The 30s sport classes are allocated to athletes with athetosis, ataxia and/or hypertonia. The impairments typically affect the ability to control legs, trunk, arms and hands. The lower the number is, the more significant the activity limitation.

Athletes in the sport classes 31-34 compete in a seated position, e.g. in wheelchair racing or using a throwing chair. In contrast, athletes in the sport classes 35-38 show a better function in their legs and better trunk control and therefore compete standing, e.g. in running events, long jump or throwing events.

Sport Class F40

Athletes with short stature compete in the sport class F40.

Sport Classes T/F42-46

These sport classes are designated for athletes with limb deficiencies, such as amputations. In the sport classes 42-44 the legs are affected by impairment and in the sport classes 45-46 the arms are affected, for example by above or below elbow amputations.

For example, a shot put athlete with a single above-the-knee amputation competes in sport class F42.

All athletes in the 40s classes compete standing and do not use a wheelchair.

Sport Classes T51-54 and F51-58:

The 50s sport classes only include athletes competing in a wheelchair. Again, a lower number indicates a higher activity limitation.

Athletes competing in wheelchair racing events for T51-54 sport classes differ in regards to their arm and shoulder functions, which are pertinent for pushing a wheelchair. Athletes in classes T51-52 have activity limitations in both lower and upper limbs, for example, due to tetraplegia. Unlike athletes in the sport classes T51-53, athletes competing in T54 have partial trunk and leg function.

For field events, wheelchair athletes compete in more differentiated classes.

Athletes in sport classes F51-54 have limited shoulder, arm and hand functions to different degrees and no trunk or leg function. This profile is for example seen with tetraplegic athletes. Athletes in the class F54 have normal function in their arms and hands.

Throughout the sport classes F55-58 the trunk and leg function increases, which is an advantage in throwing events. For example, an athlete with an amputation on one leg could also compete in the F58 sport class.


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