Paratriathlon: A Paralympic Sport!

On December 11th, Paratriathlon was added as an official Paralympic sport, from the 2016 Rio Paralympic games.

This marks a huge milestone for triathlon.  It shows that the sport is now inclusive, open to all types of athletes.  It is vital for challenged athletes, adding a clear goal and internationally recognisable milestone for many.  And it can only add to the development and opportunities for the sport. 

I have decided to celebrate the Paratriathlon as a Paralympic sport with a series of posts on the subject.  This is the first in a series of four.

What are the Paralympics?

If you are not familiar with the Paralympics, there was a great program on BBC Radio 4 covering the movement, the challenges that the Paralympics faces, and some thoughts from the International Paralympic Committee on what will be important to the success of the Paralympic going forward.

You can find the program here on iTunes.

Some facts…

– The Paralympic games are called “para” not for “paraplegic” but “para” as in “parallel”.
– At the request of the British government, a neurologist Dr Ludwig Guttmann opened a rehabilitation centre for war time injured servicemen in the UK in 1944.  This centre, for the first time, used sport as a integral part of disability rehabilitation.
– The first Parallel Olympics were held to coincide with the London Olympics, in Stoke Mandeville.  These games were organised by Dr Guttmann.
– The Stoke games included athletes from The Netherlands in 1952, thus becoming international.
– The location of the original parallel games – in Stoke Mandeville – is the reason why the London 2012 Paralympic mascot is called Mandeville.
– The first official Paralympic games were in 1960 in Rome – so over 50 years of Paralympics!
– There will be 20 sports represented in the 2012 London Paralympic games

The challenges…

A myriad of topics was covered in the Radio 4 program through a host of interviews with journalists, athletes, governing bodies and scientists.  These include:

– complex classification
– potential cheating
– the role of technology
– the increase in commercialisation
– if the claim to be elite world class sport can really be justified.

I highly recommend giving it a listen, to better understand the challenges and issues as well as the opportunities and hope which parasport offers.

First and foremost of the challenges mentioned is classification.  This is covered throughout the Radio 4 piece, including this quote as an introduction:

Classification is a massive issue – and will always be – and the perception and the understanding from the public of classification is going to be an issue for London in 2012.

Athletes who participate in parasport need to demonstrate impairments that qualify them for participation.  Each individual sport federation establishes the rules and methods for classification, which are then reviewed and certified by the International Paralympic Committee.

There are countless examples of classification making the headlines – mostly for all the wrong reasons.  Athletes being reclassified and losing medals.  Challenges to the levels of impairment making headlines rather than athlete accomplishments.  Even cases where athletes have “faked” impairment in order to enter the Paralympics (notably the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and the Spanish wheelchair basketball team).

What about paratriathlon?

As you may remember, I have written about my own experiences with paratriathlon:

– In December 2009, following my own classification experience.
– In May 2010, reflecting about my attempts to finalise my classification.
– In December 2010, after my participation in the British Triathlon Federation Paratriathlon Open Day

I thought following the decision to include Paratriathlon in the Paralympics from the 2016 Games that it would be interesting to hear a few different perspectives on the subject.  I asked Clare Cunningham, a 2009 Paratriathlon World Champion, for her thoughts.  I also asked Darren Smith, a paracyclist, XTerra paratriathlete and member of the Canadian National Paratriathlon squad, for his views.  I think both Clare and Darren have interesting perspectives, which compliment my own thoughts. 

I hope you enjoy the next few guest posts on Beating Limitations.

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