The Status of T5 ParaTriathlon: Pt 1 Pros & Cons of Recent Rule Changes
The status of the sport of ParaTriathlon is about as unclear as the vision of an elderly man with uncorrected cataracts. I am sure the international Triathlon Union (ITU) would agree with me on this. To a degree I think the clarity and communication could be much improved but I fully understand that they are basically attempting to create something from its infancy and are also being closely watched like a hawk and governed by higher powers. I will say that I think there has been positive change over the last year in the sport and I am sure there will continue to be more as we get closer to Rio 2016. This blog series is meant to give people an update on the current status of T5 paratriathlon as well as give my own insight into where I think the sport should go and what changes could be made. Do not take anything in this email as The Bible on Paratriathlon. I do not hold a position on ITU council nor do I know the next actions that ITU will take with regards to T5. I do however see the big picture in terms of where I think they want to go and I also have my own viewpoints to where I think they should go. As much as I attempt to make my viewpoints as unbiased and fair as I can, I understand that anyone's view on a subject will always have some sort of bias, intended or not. Also, I do not study the ITU rules as a second job and therefore do not claim to be an expert of the rules in any way so if I make an incorrect statement in reference to a rule feel free to correct me.
As mentioned above, there have been many changes among T5 ParaTriathlon rules over the past year., some of which I agree with and some of which I don't. A positive change included the removal of the requirement to wear blackout glasses by all athletes with a visual impairment. I fully understand the push toward fairness in sport but this rule had no validity to prove it was accomplishing what it was intended to accomplish and there was no history of ever using these type of glasses in the same way in any other sport. To be honest, I don't really agree with the use of blackout glasses in any sport for the exception of goal ball because the foundation of the sport is built around audible sound. With this said, I do understand the reasoning and justification of requiring those in the B1 classification to wear these glasses and there is history of similar use in other Paralympic sport including swimming and track and field.
Another change among the rules that I believe is a positive one is the addition of zones by which the "guide leading" rule does not apply such as coming out of the swim and around turns and such. The tether is a proprioceptive device and is used for the blind athlete to feel the tension or lack there of and make adjustments in their position accordingly. When going around turns or getting out of the water there is going t be a delay from when the guide makes an initial step into the turn and/or begins to stand up and run out of the water and when the blind athlete follows. The guide knows when the land and/or turn is approaching and therefore anticipates so they will most likely make the move ahead of the athlete who is going by the slightly delayed cues. This leads to the guide being ahead of the athlete for a brief instant. Now, one may say that this does not happen with them but remember that just because you are able to anticipate these things does not mean that all blind individuals should be able to do so. We always must realize that not everyone, same vision or not, excels in the same way.
A few other rules that have went into place that I am indifferent about include the guide rule regarding nationality and the tether length of 1-meter. Under the new rule the guide must be the same Nationality as the athlete. I am guessing this is how it is in other Paralympic sports that require a guide and therefore was just adopted. The only argument I have against this rule is that with any sport requiring a guide there will be near double travel expenses and since the sport of triathlon is very new and most countries do not have substantial funding, this may mean that the sport is only available to those with the most money. Also, technically the guide is not entered in the race so I guess I am inclined to say it shouldn't matter what nationality they are. Also, what if there is an exceptional athlete that comes out of a small country and there is no other sighted athlete that is fast enough to guide this athlete?
The other ruleI mentioned to be indifferent on is the tether length rule. I understand that the intent of the rule is to prevent a guide from tugging /towing the athlete. Its unfortunate that athletes would think it is acceptable and fair for the guide to literally tow them but I am sure there are people out there and that is why rules have to be made like this. I do however think that for people with full vision it is fairly easy to spot when a guide is in front of their athlete and I think that there will undoubtably be athletes with long arms in which the tether may interfere with a correct stroke technique if the tether length is very short. In both of the above cases, I can understand both sides. My goal is that rules always accomplish what they are intended to accomplish. I would never want an athlete to have to sacrifice correct form/technique as a result of a rule.
There are also a few rules I am in disagreement with. I am sure there are many people that would disagree with me on many issues and I don't see anything wrong with that as long as they are willing to look at the ruling through the eyes of someone else and not just for their own personal gain. First, the rules currently state that the guide or athlete can never go ahead of the other. I understand the ruling that the guide can not go ahead but it is very unclear to me why the blind athlete should not be able to lead the guide. First, the blind athlete is the one that must have the guide to race. It probably would not be in their best interest to get too far ahead and in addition they are tethered together so how far could they really get ahead? Also, does it really matter if the blind athlete pulls the guide? All this is doing is forcing the blind athlete to exert more energy and slowing them down. The rule should state: The guide can never lead or pull the athlete.
Secondly, a new rule prohibiting the use of disc brakes on tandems was put into place. I have been told that this is a current UCI rule but with that said it still doesn't make sense. Also, just to ensure that there is not a belief that I disagree with this rule for my own benefit, I don't currently nor have not extensively used disc brakes. I do however get the question from nearly every tandem guide I have, "Why don't you have disc brakes on this thing? The stopping power is poor and it is unsafe." The use of disc brakes gives no advantage and actually is really only used to improve safety and help stop quicker. I think disc brakes should be allowed on tandems for the safety benefit.
As mentioned, I am in disagreement with the above rules but this is not a bad thing. I believe that there needs to be as much input from blind athletes in making the rules as possible because only we know what we see "Through Our Eyes" and if the rules that are imposed on a class are not in part created by that class than the rules cannot fully and accurately address what they are intended to address. This goes for every other class of paratriathlon and can be expanded upon to rules and laws in society in general.
In future blogs in this series I will look at other topics related to the T5 Paratriathlon including the staggered start rule, factors to included /exclude from a factor, further dividing category, the transition dispute, drug testing for guides, the Road to Rio and many more. I hope you have enjoyed this blog. Remember, ITU had no affiliation with writing this blog nor should the blog be looked at in a negative way by ITU. It is purely a way to get the voice of T5 athletes out int the public in a way that is not degrading nor intended to make any accusations.