The Paralympic Games start in Tokyo next week.
And not only will we see thousands of the world’s best athletes compete, we’ll also see some of the most advanced mobility aids. For Paralympic athletes to be at the top of their game, wheelchairs need to be an extension of their body, adapted to suit both body and sport.
Each wheelchair sport uses a unique chair with a specific set of features. Keep reading to learn what some of those sports wheelchairs look like, ready for next week’s opening ceremony.
Wheelchair basketball involves a lot of quick stops and changes in direction. Basketball wheelchairs have 20 degrees of camber, which is the angle of the two main wheels in relation to the ground. This allows for sharp turns whilst keeping the chair stable.
Chairs can vary for low pointer and high pointer athletes. A chair with more of a “bucket seat”, higher backrest and one extra wheel at the back is used by lower pointers who have the least function in their lower body. High pointers tend to have two additional rear wheels so they’re able to lean back and not flip over.
The frame is typically made of aluminium alloy or titanium, with more welded joints rather than screw connections. This makes for a lighter chair with fewer weak points.
As a contact sport, the wheelchair must be strong enough to endure collisions. To stop the chairs attaching to one another when making contact, they have a rounded ring that acts as a bumper at the front. All of these features combine to provide optimum agility, speed and stability.
Speed and manoeuvrability are a must for tennis wheelchairs. Cambered wheels ensure stability, along with anti-tip rear wheels and one or two castors at the front. The wheels at the front are longer and more extended, enabling players to reach further forwards when returning a shot. Straps for the waist, hips, thighs, knees/shin pads and feet help with balance and stability.
With collisions inevitable in rugby, wheelchairs are designed with durability and stability in mind. Cambered wheels protect hands and front fenders keep the legs and feet safe.
Wheelchairs can be defensive or offensive. Offensive chairs have a front bumper and wings to stop them from getting stuck when colliding with another chair. Defensive chairs have bumpers that are made to hook and hold opponents, preventing them from crossing the line to score.
Racing wheelchairs are all about speed and stability. The frame is extra long with two large rear wheels and one front wheel for balance. The wider base created by 10-15 degrees of camber is mainly for lateral stability when athletes have to go around bends in races. Materials such as titanium, aluminium and carbon fibre are used to make the wheelchair lightweight and therefore increase speed. The wheelchair’s push rim is typically 35-39cm, the small diameter meaning faster acceleration with minimised arm movement.
We’re wishing the ParalympicsGB team the very best of luck!