The Paralympics are open to athletes with physical and sensory disabilities, including those with cerebral palsy, mobility disabilities, visual disabilities and amputees. The name "Paralympics" derives from the Greek word "para," which means "alongside," in reference to the competition being held in parallel with the Olympic Games.
What sports are on the program?
There are five - alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, ice sledge hockey and, new from 2006, wheelchair curling.
Can athletes with different disabilities compete against each other?
Alpine skiing, cross-country skiing and biathlon competitions are held in three categories: standing, sitting and visually impaired, with separate medals awarded in each. Athletes are placed in one of these three main classifications, then subdivided into more specific classes based on their levels of disability. For example, there are three sub-classes under the "visually impaired" umbrella - B1 (totally blind), B2 (partially sighted with little remaining sight) and B3 (partially sighted with more remaining sight).
Ideally athletes compete against only those within their specific class. When there is an insufficient number of athletes, classes may be combined. To level the playing field for those with more severe disabilities, a formula is used to adjust athletes' times according to their classification status.
Sledge hockey and wheelchair curling each consist of a single tournament, which is open to those with lower-limb disabilities.
Classification is simply a structure for competition. Not unlike wrestling, boxing and weightlifting, where athletes are categorized by weight classes, athletes with disabilities are grouped in classes defined by the degree of function presented by the disability.
Traditionally there are athletes who belong to six different disability groups in the Paralympic Movement: amputee, cerebral palsy, visual impairment, spinal cord injuries, intellectual disability and a group which includes all those that do not fit into the aforementioned groups (les autres).
Classes are determined by a variety of processes that may include a physical and technical assessment and observation in and out of competition. The classes are defined by each sport and form part of the sport rules.