Those that have followed this blog series, titled The Status of T5 Paratriathlon, will noticed that it has followed the progression of how the sport has evolved, some of the rules and rule changes and how competitive and difficult it truly is to get to the Paralympic games. I have also explained the current situation and decision that must be made by this October as to the final categories that will compete in Rio. This blog will discuss why in my opinion, the PT 5 category should be selected to compete in the 2016 Rio Games.
As mentioned in the previous blog, I think it is ridiculous that all five Paratriathlon classifications cannot compete in Rio but at this point you would get more benefits talking to a wall than argue this with the powers that be. In addition, I feel bad for the categories that don't get selected to compete in Rio. This may end people's careers and it may diminish the field in those categories to near extinction. The impact of this decision will be astronomical and just like every other person that is on the chopping block, I just hope its T5 they select for Rio in 2016.
There are multiple reasons why I believe that T5 should be the "last one in". Obviously I have bias because I am in this category but I will attempt to take the bias out in this reasoning. Here are the top reasons why I think T5 should be selected.
1. Media Interest: No matter how much people want to argue that the media doesn't or shouldn't play a role in Paralympic decision making, there is no question that it does. The media influence is the reason that paratriathlon is a sprint distance triathlon and why the Olympians will also be moving towards a sprint distance most likely in Tokyo. The media is why we do multiple laps on the run and bike course. The media has an impact in nearly every aspect of the sport. The T5 category brings an interesting dynamic that no other category can showcase and that is the dynamics of working with a guide and introducing the concept of teamwork into a sport that can be very "me" centered. The guide can not push, pull or lead the athlete but they must communicate and work together. The dynamics of watching a blind athlete and their guide working together as well as the speed and power that spectators will see on the bike cannot be displayed by any other category.
Looking at the categories that have already been selected, the T1 and T4 categories, I think that there are many reasons that they have already been chosen. The main reason is that both of these categories have proven that they have elite level competition. The media wants to see a sprint to the finish and I think both of these categories can provide this. I also think that the unique dynamics of the T1 athletes racing in a different way (hand cycle and racing W/C) as well as the speed that they can generate around the bike/run course adds a great dimension for media coverage to get higher ratings.
In concluding this point, I think media coverage plays a big role in these decisions. Do I think that its right that the media has such an impact? No, probably not. The fact is though that its just reality. Its how our world works.
2. Competition Field: Much of the decision should be based upon the level of competition within the category. The competition field in the T4 category is amazing. The top five guys are racing at/near professional levels of an "able-bodied" field. The T1 category has began to get very competitive and results at races with strong fields have been close. One area that all of the remaining categories (T2, T3, T5) have is that they all have a large number of countries represented in the top 10 of the world rankings. This demonstrates that the level of competition has expanded to all over the world rather than one country dominating. This is also a requirement for a sport class to get into the Olympic/Paralympics. There must be at least four countries represented in the Top 10 of the World Rankings for a sport class too compete in the Paralympics/Olympics.
After looking at results from the major ITU races around the world with respect to the remaining categories, the T5 category demonstrates the largest size of field and smallest variance among the top five athletes. Some of the decision making on how many athletes per category are allowed to race is made by ITU but these decisions are based upon the demand and level of competition in the category (World Ranking, etc). I believe that with a more accurate factor used in the T5 category, the competition will only get more tight knit. At the current factor some of the variance is due to inaccuracy of the factor but more accurate and valid statistics will only help to demonstrate the highly competitive nature of the T5 category. (Learn more about the factor HERE)
3. The Full Spectrum: A very important parameter that needs to be followed by IPC and ITU in selecting categories for the games is assurance that the full spectrum of disabilities is covered. In a very broad sense, there are three main groups among Paralympic competition in any sport; Wheelchair/Sit Down (Spinal cord, etc) athletes, Stand Up (upper/lower limb amputees, MS, CP) athletes and Blind/VI athletes. From these very broad categories, more detailed classifications are defined.
One of the things that I constantly hear is the "who's more disabled debate." I can't stand this argument, especially among Para athletes who are constantly preaching and demonstrating that we are in fact more than capable and able. This conversation does drift into the argument for inclusion into the Paralymics by some individuals as I have actually been told by someone that "the blind/VI individuals are the least disabled and therefore the last ones to be considered." Other than the fact that this statement is totally uncalled for it is also not true. I don't like to get into these arguments but in response I would give some facts. Did you know, in a poll among Americans about their fears, the number one fear after getting cancer was going blind. It was not losing a limb or becoming paralyzed, it was going blind. This must give some credibility to how real it is. Also, since when is the destruction of human cells in the eye not a physical related issue. What I think is funny is that what these people are saying is, "I can't SEE anything physically wrong with you." This basically plays right into their argument because if they didn't have vision, they would have a difficult time SEEING the physical nature of conditions. The fact is that having limited to no vision plays into physical limitation. Just like an amputee may not be able to run without their prosthesis, a blind/VI individual is unable to run safely without a guide and bike safely without riding a tandem. Its pretty self explanatory.
The full spectrum of disabilities needs to be displayed. They have already chosen a category that includes sit down or wheelchair athletes (T1) as well as a category that includes stand up athletes (T4 - Mild Upper/Lower Limb impairment). If they fail to select the T5 category as the final selected category than they in turn have lost 1/3 of the full spectrum that they attempt to showcase and therefore the sport of Paratrithlon in the Paralymics will look very incomplete. Now, don't get me wrong because its going to look incomplete either way because as I mentioned before two categories are going to be cut from the current five category system. Cutting any of the current categories is bad but only by cutting the blind/VI (of the categories remaining) will you have lost at least representation across the spectrum of disabilities.
In future games they will undoubtedly add and divide classifications so there is more inclusion within each individual larger classification but that is much easier to do than to cut 1/3 of the spectrum and then attempt to recreate the wheel and bring it back.
In conclusion, when making the final decision on which category to select as the third and final one on the men's side for Paratriathlon, I hope the above things are taken into account and the impact of this decision is realized. They must create a foundation from which to build on. If this foundation does not include one of the three pillars that will provide a strong base to work from than it will be unsteady from the beginning. Only from the strong base encompassing the entire spectrum of broad categories will the sport have something stable to build off of. The T5 category is the third piece to completing this spectrum.
Additional Comments: You may have realized that I have not spoken too much about the female side of Paratriathlon. I feel the same way towards the female side that the entire spectrum should be represented in some way. They also have specified that whatever male categories are selected does not determine whether the same female categories will also be selected. The selection of the female categories is a little more complicated and complex because as I mentioned earlier there are Olympic/Paralympic rules that must be fulfilled for each category in terms of how many countries are represented with athletes and whether there are at least four different countries represented in the top 10 of world rankings. I am not sure on the details of these requirements so I cannot give as a definitive reasoning which categories should be selected. If the female blind/VI meet these criteria than yes I think they need to be included to continue to ensure that the entire spectrum of disability is at least represented in some way.