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The 2020 Boston Marathon Will Have Divisions For Para Athletes

2019 Boston Marathon medals (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
2019 Boston Marathon medals (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The Boston Marathon promises to be even more competitive in the future. Next year, the race will become the first major marathon with competitive divisions for Para athletes.

“The incorporation of Para Athletic Divisions in the Boston Marathon will allow us to help sport set a new standard for the way Para athletes are recognized in elite marathon competitions,” Boston Athletic Association CEO Tom Grilk said in a press release about the changes. “We are adding the Para Athletic Divisions to our already-inclusive programs for athletes with eligible impairments, as we aspire to provide participatory and competitive opportunities for all athletes.”

While the race already includes divisions for wheelchairs and handcycles, the new Para athlete categories will give more athletes with impairments a chance to compete at a higher level.

The Para athlete divisions at the marathon will apply the same classifications as the Paralympics. World Para Athletics has 10 eligible impairment types that range from paralysis as a result of a spinal cord injury to limb deficiency as a result of amputation to vision problems. Para athletes are placed in different classifications and categories with the goal that each group consists of athletes with approximately the same physical limitations.

According to the BAA: “To compete in the 2020 Boston Marathon Para Athletics Division, athletes must hold the appropriate national or international Para athletics classification and meet research-based qualifying standards for their respective age, gender, and sport class.”

The 2020 race will have categories for classified ambulatory Para athletes with vision impairment, lower-limb impairment and upper-limb impairment.

For male and female runners with lower-limb impairments, the qualifying time standard will be 5 hours and 40 minutes. For runners with upper-limb impairment, it will be 4 hours and 55 minutes. Depending on age and category, the standard for vision-impaired runners will range from 3:40 to 4:25 for men and 4:10 to 4:55 for women.

The BAA added that each classification category will also have high-performance standards. Para athletes who meet their respective high-performance standards will be considered for invitational entries into the Boston Marathon.

The total prize money for the Para athletics divisions will be $16,500. The money will be divided among the top three male and female finishers in each category — lower-limb, upper-limb and vision-impaired — with $1,500 going to winners, $750 for second and $500 for third.

“In recent years, we have witnessed the strength of the Para athletic community within the Boston Marathon,” said Marla Runyan, the BAA’s manager of Para athletics and adaptive programs. “The new division will recognize and elevate their achievements and pave the way for more athletes to compete at the highest levels of the Boston Marathon.”

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Shira Springer covers stories at the intersection of sports and society.

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