Going For Gold: A Guide To London's World Para Athletics Championships
Since Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park hosted the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, London is firmly on the world sporting map. Since that memorable event, the stadium has staged major contests including the annual Anniversary Games (a high-profile athletics tournament), while last year it was transformed into the home of West Ham football club.
Athletics take centre stage at the landmark stadium once again, as it hosts the largest event since the Olympics: the World Para Athletics Championships (14-23 Jul), followed by the IAAF World Championships (4-13 Aug). This is the first time that these two prestigious events are held in the same city.
So what can we expect from this month’s championships? London 2012 was said to be the greatest ever Paralympics – not only in terms of crowd numbers, but also for how it elevated the standard, prestige and global respect of the sports. It also helped change our perception of disability sports, and of people with disabilities.
British medal winners, such as swimmer Ellie Simmonds and 100m sprinter Jonnie Peacock, became household names. In the 2012 Paralympics, Great Britain won an amazing 120 medals (the second highest, behind China) and even more in the 2016 Rio Games, winning 147 medals.
The electric atmosphere in London amazed many of the athletes. ‘The first time I heard them cheer for Jonnie [Peacock] in the final in 2012 is my outstanding memory,’ commented US Paralympian Richard Browne. ‘It’s like everybody in the country screamed, not just the stadium. There was so much support and it made me feel good that all these people support and admire what we do. London is the best place for that.’
Those events were all sold out – something that the organisers of this year’s championships are eager to repeat. Schemes such as the ‘Bolt ticket’ – £9.58 tickets for children – plus the Mayor of London’s scheme, allowing 250,000 London children to apply for tickets for as little as £3, will ensure that the stands are filled.
While that’s good news for the competitors and organisers, it’s not so great for visitors hoping to attend. Those wishing to snap up any remaining tickets can register on the official website, where fans can post unwanted tickets up to 48 hours before the session. Good luck!
What To Watch
The action comes thick and fast from the opening evening until the final session, with 10 days of sporting action and medal contention each day. Here are some of the medal-winning final rounds to catch:
- 14 Jul: Women’s 100m (T34); men’s 100m (T5)
- 15 Jul: Men’s 100m (T34); women’s 200m (T53)
- 16 Jul: Women’s 400m (T44); men’s high jump (T47)
- 17 Jul: Men’s triple jump (T47); women’s javelin (F56)
- 18 Jul: Men’s 400m (T53); women’s javelin (F11)
- 19 Jul: Men’s long jump (T47); women’s 400m (T53)
- 20 Jul: Men’s 800m (T34); women’s 400m (T34)
- 21 Jul: Women’s discus throw (F55); men’s 100m (T31)
- 22 Jul: Men’s 200m (T44); women’s shot put (F53)
- 23 Jul: Men’s and women’s 4 x 100 relay (T11-13); men’s 5,000m (T54)
Event Classification Guide
Each discipline has a code, e.g. T34 T=track F=field
The first digit indicates type of disability:
1 = visual impairment
2 = intellectual impairment
3 = co-ordination impairment
4 = limb deficiencies & short stature
5 = impaired muscle power/range of movement
The second digit indicates level of disability:
1 = most impaired
8 = least impaired
Who To Watch
The tournament sees approximately 1,300 of the world’s best para athletes from more than 200 countries. David Weir is one of the most prominent stars to have recently retired from track competitions, but there are plenty of other British superstars to look out for:
- Joanna Butterfield (age 38); wheelchair athlete. Sport: F51 & F31 club and discus throw. Medals: Paralympic gold (2016), IPC world champion (2015)
- Libby Clegg (27); visual impairment Sport: T12 100m & 200m. Medals: Paralympics 100m silver (2012); IPC European Championships 100m & 200m gold
- Hannah Cockroft (24); wheelchair athlete. Sport: T34 100m & 200m. Medals: Paralympic T34 100m, 400m & 800m gold
- Aled Davies (26); limb impairment Sport: F42 shot put & discus. Medals: world record in F42 shot put & discus; Paralympics F42 discus gold (2012 & 2016)
- Georgina Hermitage (29); cerebral palsy. Sport: T37 100m & 200m, T 35-38 x 100m. Major achievements: T37 100m Paralympic gold medal (2016)
- Jonnie Peacock (24); limb impairment Sport: T44 100m. Medals: double Paralympic (2012 & 2016), world and European champion
- Richard Whitehead (40); limb impairment. Sport: T42 200m & 100m. Major achievements: Paralympic gold 200m (2012 & 2016); 200m world champion
Access on London’s public transport and at major attractions has improved over the years, making it easier for people with disabilities to get around relatively trouble-free – in fact it’s one of the best cities in Europe for this.
Almost all buses – whether they’re single or double-deckers – have wheelchair ramps, with a dedicated wheelchair space, plus low-floor entry for those with other mobility issues. Every black cab has a wheelchair ramp that can be extended to the kerb. London has the world’s oldest Underground so although it’s not in perfect shape for full accessibility, around a quarter of Tube stations have step-free access. Some stations have platform humps for easy wheelchair access on to the train. In addition, half of the Overground stations, most piers for boat cruises and all DLR stations have step-free access.
Most of London’s leading museums and attractions have good lift and ramp access. It is also possible to borrow a wheelchair when visiting some of the major London attractions such as The British Museum, Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, Westminster Abbey and the Natural History Museum (booking required). Up at The O2 is wheelchair-friendly, too. Even some of London’s Grade I-listed buildings are now wheelchair-accessible, such as Sir John Soane’s Museum, but check in advance. Visitors with visual impairments can also make use of audio guides at many of these venues, as well as magnifying sheets to read the captions and documents more easily. Although assistance dogs are welcome everywhere, they are not able to enter ZSL London Zoo.
Theatres And Concerts
Modern theatres and concert halls, such as the Barbican, National Theatre and Royal Festival Hall, have excellent access facilities including hearing loops. Access London Theatre has comprehensive listings of ‘relaxed’ shows for those with special needs, including autism spectrum conditions and learning disabilities. Check before you buy tickets, as some of the capital’s older venues are difficult to access easily.
Hotels And Restaurants
The majority of London’s hotels have disability access, with some offering fully accessible rooms and bathrooms. It is worth checking the access requirements in smaller guesthouses in older buildings, as lifts may not be permitted in listed properties. Restaurants are usually equipped with accessible ground- floor toilets, although some of London’s Victorian bars are not.