What To Watch For At The World Para Athletics Championships
by Luke Hanlon
After a four-year hiatus, the World Para Athletics Championships are set to take place in Paris July 8-17.
This will be the first time since the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 that the world’s best Para track and field athletes will all be gathered in one place to compete against one another. And this time, fans will be in attendance to cheer them on.
Here are some things to keep an eye on at this year’s world championships.
Déjà Vu All Over Again
This year’s world championships are a part of the Paralympic cycle leading to the 2024 Games. Any of the U.S. athletes who compete at worlds will be hoping for a chance to return to Paris, as it is set to host the Paralympics next summer. The main venue for both competitions will be Stade Charlety.
Team USA will be looking to build off a strong performance at the last world championships, which were held in Dubai, UAE, in November 2019. The U.S. finished with 12 golds and 34 total medals, good enough for fourth-most in both categories at that competition.
American Frame Running Debut
Frame running, previously known as RaceRunning, made its world championships debut in 2019. The event features athletes with limited mobility or balance, so each athlete uses a running frame with three wheels to support them as they race down the track.
In 2019, 17 different countries had athletes participate in frame running at the world championships, but the United States was not one of them. That changes this year, as frame running made its debut at the U.S. Paralympics Track & Field National Championships this May, which served as the qualifying meet for worlds.
Sayers Grooms of Gainesville, Florida, posted a time of 18.46 in the 100-meter, which was the fastest of any frame runner at nationals. Michael Anwar of Spokane, Washington, won the men’s heat with a time of 20.17. As a result Grooms and Anwar, who both have cerebral palsy, are set to become the first Americans to compete in frame running at a world championships.
Notable New Faces
Of the 45 athletes that will competing for the U.S. in Paris, 16 of them will be making their world championships debut. One of those newbies is thrower Samantha Heyison, who was born without the index and middle finger on her right hand as well as a clubfoot on her left side. The Adamstown, Maryland, native comes into worlds after winning national titles in the shot put and discus F44, throwing for an Americas record 37.89 meters in the discus. Throwing against the world’s best Para athletes shouldn’t faze her too much, as she’s currently the world No. 1 in shot put and No. 2 in discus in the F44 class.
Joining Heyison in the group of exciting new throwers on the world stage is Noelle Malkamaki. The Decatur, Illinois, native has competed in two national championships and excelled both times. In 2022, Malkamaki, who was born without part of her right arm, set an Americas record in the shot put F46. She improved on that in 2023 and set a new world record in the event with a throw of 12.63 meters. The DePaul University senior comes into her worlds debut ranked No. 1 in the shot put F46.
Another newcomer to watch is Derek Loccident. Before jumping for Team USA, Loccident played football at the University of Central Oklahoma. During his sophomore year of college, he lost the lower part of his left leg after a train accident. Loccident was able to make it back onto the football field for Central Oklahoma before shifting his focus to track and field. Now he’s set to make his world championships debut after he recorded a distance of 7.56 meters in the long jump T64 at nationals. That was only .07 meters behind two-time Paralympian Trenten Merrill, the reigning Paralympic bronze medalist who set an Americas record at nationals.
Like Loccident, Ryan Medrano took a unique path to the world championships. Instead of the football field, Medrano, who has cerebral palsy, was competing on season 43 of “Survivor” when he met Paralympian Noelle Lambert. After learning about Para track and field through Lambert, Medrano made his way to Chula Vista, California, to compete in three events — long jump, 100 and 400 T38 — at nationals. He met the “A” standard for all three and will be competing in each event in Paris.
While seeing new athletes compete on the big stage for the first time is exciting, it can be even more enjoyable to watch some of the sport’s biggest stars continue to put on a show. Lex Gillette has been dazzling track and field fans for nearly two decades now. After making his Paralympic debut in Athens in 2004, the visually impaired jumper and sprinter competed in his first world championships in 2006 in Assen, Netherlands. The 38-year-old has only gotten better with age, as he’s won gold in the long jump T11 in the past four world championships (to go along with silver medals in the event at each of his five Paralympics). Time will tell if he can secure his fifth world title in a row.
On top of competing in the long jump, Gillette, along with his visual guide Jerome Avery, also has the potential to be one of the four legs of Team USA’s 4x100 universal relay team. Gillette and Avery competed as part of the team relay at nationals, joined by Tatyana McFadden, Nick Mayhugh and Brittni Mason.
McFadden is set to compete in her fifth track and field world championships and will be looking to add to her world medal count, which currently sits at 20 (including a 2015 win in the separate marathon world championships). That matches the total number of Paralympic medals the wheelchair racer has won in six Games. The 34-year-old Baltimore native is set to compete in the 100 and 400 T54 after she won national titles in both of those events in May.
Luke Hanlon is a sportswriter and editor based in Minneapolis. He is a freelance contributor to USParaTrackandField.org courtesy of Red Line Editorial, Inc.