There is much anticipation on what categories of Paratriathlon will be going to Rio in 2016. The International Triathlon Union (ITU) and International Paralympic Committee (IPC) have already announced 2/3 categories for males and 1/3 categories for females. For males, the PT1 (Spinal Cord Injury/Wheelchair Users) and PT 4 (Mild Lower Extremity or Mild Upper Extremity Impairment) categories have already punched their ticket to Rio. For females, the PT4 (Mild Lower Extremity or Mild Upper Extremity Impairment) category has been the only category announced. The decision on what categories will finalize the roster for Rio is supposed to be announced in October of this year. This leave the remainder of the categories (PT2,3,5 for males and PT 1,2,3,5 for females) hoping and praying to win the paratriathlon lottery and have their category announced.
I am in the same boat as most, not fully understanding why all five current categories can't be represented in Rio. I understand that the Rio Paralympic games will be the first Paralympic Games for the sport of triathlon but how can a sport like track and field have over 30 classification categories (IPC Track/Field Classification) and swimming have 14 classification (IPC Swimming Classifications) and we can't get five? This is baffling to me and I truly hope that there is a realization by IPC when they cut classifications from Paralympic games the magnitude and duration of the impact. This impact may be felt in triathlon more than any other sport due to the increased financial and time commitment that triathlon requires more than any other Paralympic sport. Olympic and Paralympic athletes commit four years of their life in order to build up to a single event. This often means putting your professional career, family lifestyle and financial stability in the back seat. In addition, it is very common that your chances of making it to the Paralympics are less determined on your ability and more determined on what category you classify into and whether your classification category has been chosen to compete in the Paralympic games.
To give an example of what I am referring to, I will explain my situation with respect to Track and Field (Athletics). First, with regards to classification, the visual related classifications are T11-T13 with T11 being completely blind and T12 and T13 representing the progression of more vision up to the legal blindness level. Last time I had an eye exam I could see the "E" on the eye chart clearly from two feet away. This could be written as "20/400 acuity from 2ft away" or put in the 20/20 scale would be around 20/8,000. On paper this would classify me as a T12 but often times, classifiers look at you as you come in and how mobile you are and how high you function and take that into account. They are not supposed to do this but lets just say, it has been done. Looking at how well I get around and function, they may try to classify me as T13 even though this is basically penalizing me for having adapted and accommodated to my visual impairment. To explain the above situation in different terms. This would be the same as if they decided to make different classification for height in sport and there was a guy that is 6'8" and another guy that is 6'0" and during the classification instead of looking only at the actual height measurements, they also took into account outside knowledge that the 6'0" male had a vertical jump of 32inches and the 6'8" male had a vertical of only 20inches. In their reason in classification they decided to classify both of these guys in the same category based on the fact that the shorter man was able to function as if he was 6'8". This conclusion was not based on the actual heights but rather differences that were most likely from accommodation and in this case maybe genetics :)
Getting back to the actual Paralympic scenario, the difference between classifying as a T12 and a T13 is of astronomical importance. In the London Paralympic games, the longest running event offered to the T13 category was the 1,500m while both T11 & T12 were able to run 5,000m and the marathon. Also, T11 and T12 athletes are allowed to use a guide whereas T13 is not allowed a guide. For me, if I don't have a guide I am in deep trouble, especially with events off the track. Personally, I think not allowing guides for T13 athletes is a major safety issue just waiting to happen but again I don't make the rules. So now you can see how important classification is on competing. If you don't classify into one of the classes that an event is offered in, you don't go.
As mentioned above, once you are classified, you are not guaranteed your category will be competing in the games. The events that are offered to different categories fluctuates with each Paralympi games. Don't ask me who determines what events are offered for each category. It may be a lottery, I don't know (LOL). This also means that an individual may train for years thinking that his/her category will be offered and then find out that it is not. One can now see how this can deter people from the sport. This also means that if a category is cut from one Paralympic games it will most likely take 8+ years to reestablish elite competition rather than just four. People retire, drop out or find another sport when they find out their category has been dropped from the events schedule at the games.
AND Finally, the Paralympic games are no little event where everyone gets a finishers medal nor are they the Special Olympics (an area of confusion that seems to be very common I have found). The Paralympics are the Olympics for those with physical impairments and take place just after the Olympics in the same venues as the Olympics. The Special Olympics are for thoe with mental impairments. The standards for qualification to compete in the Parlympics are very near those for the regular Olympics. There are even cases such as Marla Runyan (T13) and Oscar Pistorius (T43/44) where Paralympic athletes meet the standards and compete in the regular Olympics. To give an example of the level of competition in the Paralympic games among the bling/VI at the London 2012 Games, here are some of the results from the distance events in the different categories.
Track & Field: 5,000m Men's T12
1. Chentouf, El Amin MAR 13:53.76WR
2. Zhiou, Abderrahim TUN 14:19.97
3. Kirwa, Henry KEN 14:20.76
Track & Field: 1,500m Mens T13
1. Zhiou, Abderrahim TUN 3:48.31WR
2. Korir, David KEN 3:48.84WR
3. Devine, David GBR 3:49.79
Track & Field: 1,500m Mens T11
1. Kimani, Samwel Mushai KEN 3:58.37WR
2. Santos, Odair BRA 4:03.66
3. Dunkerley, Jason Joseph CAN 4:07.56
Marathon Mens T11/T12
1. Suarez Laso, Alberto ESP 2:24:50WR
2. Serna Moreno, Elkin Alonso COL 2:26:39
3. Zhiou, Abderrahim TUN 2:26:56
4. Okamura, Masahiro JPN 2:28:51
5. Wada, Shinya JPN 2:40:08
For those of you that re runners and know track and field to some degree, you will understand the caliber of competition that the Paralympic Games attracts. This is the type of field that I want to be competing against in Rio in the inaugural Paralympic Games for Paratriathlon. In my next blog I will explain why I BELIEVE that the T5 category should be the third and final category to to compete in Rio.