How Powerlifters Qualify For The Paralympics

by Luke Hanlon

Jake Herbert prepares for a lift at the 2023 World Para Powerlifting World Championships. (Photo by World Para Powerlifting)

In the months before the Paralympic Games kick off next August in Paris, sports such as swimming and track and field will host qualifying events, or trials, to determine which athletes make the Team USA roster.

No such event exists for powerlifting. Instead, athletes must prove themselves across multiple competitions in the calendar year leading up to a Paralympics in order to earn a coveted spot on their country’s roster.

The Paralympic program includes 20 medal events for powerlifting, with 10 weight classes for men and 10 for women. Only eight athletes can qualify in each class, so a total of 80 men and 80 women. An additional 20 athletes will be added to the Paris field via a bipartite commission made up of the IPC and World Para Weightlifting.

The eight athletes per class earn their spots through the world rankings. With the Paralympics set to kick off on Aug. 28 next year, the world rankings as of June 26, 2024, will decide which athletes qualify. Applications for bipartite commission slots must be submitted by July 9, 2024, and selections will be confirmed three days later.

The one caveat in this process is each country is allowed to qualify only one athlete per medal event in Paris. So even if a single country has multiple athletes ranked among the top eight in a given weight class, only one can make the trip to compete in the Games — unless another is chosen by the bipartite commission.

Because of this, athletes are allowed to switch weight classes to help their chances of qualifying, but they can only change their class two times during a four-year Paralympic cycle.

Ranking Events

The world rankings update after every World Para Powerlifting-sanctioned event. Most recently, the rankings changed after the world championships at the end of August. While each powerlifter gets ranked based on their best lift and total lift, the ranking of their best lift is what determines who qualifies for the Paralympics.

There are two remaining events for American athletes in 2023 — a world cup in Cairo Nov. 3-5 and the Parapan American Games in Santiago, Chile, Nov. 17-26.

The hunt for a Paralympic spot will heat up starting next February. The first world cup event of 2024 is set for Feb. 28-March 7 in Dubai, UAE. This is one of six world cup events that will take place in a four-month span next year. Athletes must compete in two of these six world cups to be eligible for the Paralympics.

Strategy and Timing

Strategy comes into play for athletes when deciding which events to compete in. Athletes are allowed to compete in as many ranking events as they want. However, selecting how many to take part in, and which ones, is not so simple.

More competitions means more opportunities for athletes to improve their best lift. However, limiting the amount of travel and the strain of competition is key for athletes to perform at their best at whatever events they decide to attend.

The first four world cups are taking place in either Africa, Asia or Europe. The fifth world cup event, on May 19-22, is in Cancun, Mexico. Being the closest competition to the U.S., Cancun is expected to be a preferred competition for many Americans.

Timing also plays a factor, as the last world cup is taking place from June 19-26 in Manchester, England. That event will likely have the largest field of athletes due to it being the last time they can increase their world ranking before the Paralympic spots are finalized.

Who’s In The Mix

Jacob Schrom was the only American to qualify for the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020. Competing in the 107 kg. class, Schrom’s best lift of 218 kg. was good enough for sixth place.

Four U.S. powerlifters competed in the recent world championships. While no Americans ranked among the top eight of their weight class following that competition, there are ample opportunities to shoot up the rankings before next June.

Bobby Body is currently the highest-ranked American powerlifter. His best lift of 217 kg. places him 10th in the 107 kg. weight class.

Luke Hanlon is a sportswriter and editor based in Minneapolis. He is a freelance contributor to courtesy of Red Line Editorial, Inc.