Though the inspirational Tokyo Paralympic games have ended, and the wait for Paris 2024 begins, the technology for para sports, from low-tech to highly advanced, has been moving at pace and looks set to continue having an impact.
Specialised assistive tech, refined designs, and innovative materials enable increasingly bespoke equipment for individual athletes, much of which was in evidence at the Tokyo games.
For para cyclists, modified standard racing bikes are used which enable a prosthetic leg or foot to be attached to the pedal and handlebars can be modified depending on which arm, or hand has more mobility.
Para archery utilises a release mechanism which is hinged on to a brace and strapped on to the upper body while placed at the archer’s back. The archer then releases the arrow using other hinges or a manual trigger mechanism.
Visually impaired swimmers are given the signal for when to turn by assistants using tapping devices – usually a soft-ended pole – used to tap the swimmer (on the shoulder, head or back) as they approach the side of the pool.
J-shaped running blades, made of light, flexible carbon fibre are used to replace the lower leg for para athletes competing in track events.
Wheelchairs are specifically customised to the requirements of athletes depending on their sport.
For the first time, para badminton was an official sport at the Tokyo games and athletes utilised specialised wheelchairs with additional rear casters and a backrest, enabling them to lean backwards without overbalancing and move freely.
Wheelchairs for basketball are bent 20 degrees to the ground to make them more manoeuvrable, are higher overall, have a bigger wheel rim, incorporate bucket seats, have higher backrests and an extra wheel to enable the athlete to lean right back.
Racing wheelchairs, though mainly constructed from aluminium, are increasingly incorporating carbon fibre technology to make them lighter and more stable. The wheels are placed at a 15 degree camber to add stability when moving at pace, and seats are customised to the individual. Even gloves are customised to maximise power output.
Obviously, for rugby, wheelchairs need to be robust and resilient. Constructed from titanium or aluminium, they can incorporate up to 6 wheels to aid manoeuvrability. Wheelchairs for defenders include a hook to check opponents while aluminium metal wings are attached to help players in attack.
The range of adaptive equipment available for athletes is evolving all the time and continuing to push technology for athletes to compete should also continue to have a positive impact on the sports that can be played.
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