The International Triathlon Union (ITU) have introduced a number of changes within Paratriathlon for 2014. Here’s an over-view of some of the main ones from my point of view: –
New Category system
The ITU now uses 5 categories within Paratriathlon (see here for a brief over-view). My category is now PT5 for both blind and visually impaired athletes, who raced separately last year. Having two medal events seemed like a good idea as long as people are classified accurately…especially after the debacle of the ITU enforcing the use of blackout glasses during the run over previous seasons. Anyway, everyone’s back together again now and we’ll find out in July (maybe) which 3 categories will be included in the Rio 2016 Paralympics . Fingers (and eyes) crossed!
Classification is a way of dividing people into different groups depending on level of impairment or functional ability/limitation with ITU introducing a new system for 2014. For most categories a range of physical tests are completed with athletes scored accordingly. For PT5 athletes the visual tests are basically the same as before – visual acuity is measured using an eye chart and field of vision is assessed – but have to be updated and evidenced. I was asked to do mind in a hurry just before flying out to Japan to race…there are 3 grades of visual impairment in Paralympic sport: –
- B1 (Blind) – No light perception up to light perception but unable to recognise the shape of hand at any distance or in any direction
- B2 & 3 (Visually Impaired) – A visual acuity of less than 6/60 (10%) or a visual field of less than 20 degrees with best correction
A new new points system has also come into effect. Points can be accrued at various events such as national championships, World Paratriathlon Events (of which there are several during the season) and Continental/World championships. You’re best 3 scores during the year count towards an over-all World Ranking. The bigger events carry a higher points value with more athletes able to score points lower down the finishing order. For example, a win would carry: –
- Nationals – 150 points
- World Paratri Event – 250 points
- Continental Champs – 500 points
- World Champs – 750 points
Points go down in value by 7.5% per finishing place at each event, but you can participate in as many as you like (or can get a start at – see next point)
Here’s the thing though. You need enough points to be high up the rankings in order to get to the major championships in the first place – or be lucky!
Clearly the ITU were concerned at the number of athletes who might show up at a Paratriathlon event and wanted to limit this, perhaps to those athletes of a higher caliber? To be fair there was something like 230 of us at last year’s World champs which seemed too many for an ‘elite’ event and was probably an organisational nightmare! Each of the 5 categories has been allocated a quota for how many places will be available at different events, for example: –
- World Paratri Event – 50 places (6 for PT5)
- European Champs – 70 places (8 for PT5
- World Champs – 100 places (10 for PT5)
Places are first allocated by World ranking. After that you enter into an alphebetacle lottery by country name until the quota of places for you’re category is allocated. If you missed out on either of the former entry routes it’s not necessarily all over. Additional places can be allocated on a ‘wildcard’ basis up to the maximum number of athletes permitted at the organisers discretion. If you still arn’t in (and you haven’t developed some sort of complex) you might be lucky and get a late call up from the wait list if a spot becomes available. Phew!
We now have to enter (and withdraw) from ITU events within set timescales. If you don’t, you might miss out on getting one of the few places available within the quota system regardless of how many points you may have or how good you are. If you withdraw too late you can be banned from any events within the next month!
Where to start! Without going into the rights or wrongs of factoring in Paralympic sport on this occasion, it is basically a way of trying to balance out any differences between athletes within the same category but with differing levels of impairment, or people from different categories so they compete ‘fairly’ against each other. OK i’m struggling to not say what I really think, but in principle I get the idea. The ITU introduced this a little out of he blue at the Yokohama World Paratriathlon Event in mid-May. It gives the B1 (blind) men a 3:43 and the B1 women a 4:16 headstart over their VI counterparts.
So what do I think of all of these changes? Some are good some not so much. Ultimately the best way for athletes with differing degrees of visual impairment to compete is in separate categories, but it won’t happen in this Paralympic cycle. I think bringing in tighter classification is a good thing, but it needs to be offered consistently at all international events to begin with, and this hasn’t happened so far in 2014 for the PT5 athletes. In light of the introduction of factoring – more on this another time – it’s absolutely essential people are categorised correctly as this could have massive implications. Some athletes including myself will now find it much harder just to get selected for major events never mind trying to get on the podium with that 3:43 deficit to overcome. Whatever my thoughts on factoring and the way it’s been introduced by the ITU, you want to know that those who are getting that advantage actually do warrant it within the rules of the sport.
Hopefully that side of things will get sorted out better over time. As for the other changes I can live with them, although it does make life awkward when you don’t know which events you will be going to until a few weeks beforehand as many of us aren’t full-time athletes and have jobs to hold down and other commitments.
I guess if it was easy it wouldn’t be worth doing, right?
Where to start.