The aim was to make the GB team and win a medal at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio where triathlon will make it’s debut. That was at least until the 7th October when the International triathlon Union (ITU) announced that the PT5 category for male visually impaired and blind athletes would not be included. See the press release here.
There are 5 categories in Paratriathlon for both men and women meaning a total of 10 classifications. For Rio 2016 it had been decided that only 6 classifications could be included. You could argue this is not right, but with only 60 places available on the start line in total (again maybe not right), it would be hard to include all classifications and have meaningful racing. Also with Paratriathlon being a new and developing sport some categories were stronger than others and some would perhaps struggle to fulfil certain criteria around athlete numbers, numbers of competing nations and how many continents have representatives etc.
3 classifications had previously been confirmed for Rio (PT1 male wheelchair athletes and PT4 male and female physically impaired athletes). Men’s and women’s PT2 (Physically impaired) and women’s PT5 (VI & blind) join the party and will now look forward to taking part in a Paralympic test event in Brazil during 2015 before the big one in 2016.
Whilst it was always a possibility that my category would miss out (and let’s face it someone was always going to be disappointed), I never really thought it would happen. That’s because the PT5 men produce some of the fastest, well contested racing out there. As far as I can see, participation numbers are strong and the criteria for inclusion should have been met . You also have the additional interest that comes from a guide and athlete working together creating additional technical requirements and the sheer speed of racing on the tandem to catch the imagination of those watching…
Why did they leave out the VI men then? It’s a good question and one I can only guess at to be honest. We haven’t really had an explanation as yet but it would be nice to understand the decision making process, even if ultimately it won’t change anything. It may have been as simple as trying to balance out the number of male and female categories, having also excluded the Women’s wheelchair athletes. That’s my best bet.
Part of me though also wonders if the decision was influenced by the introduction of factoring. That’s because rhe amount of time advantage given to the blind athletes over the partially sighted guys (3:43 minutes) does not appear to have much scientific basis at present – and I should perhaps add that I’m not anti-factoring as such, but do like things to be done as fairly as is reasonably possible.
I’m sorry to say this, but factoring also provides a big incentive to be classified as B1(blind or with no real functional sight)! The lack of opportunity for eyesight checks at ITU events this year hasn’t helped either. It seems some people were gaining that time advantage unfairly. This makes a lot of the results (including some high profile ones) somewhat invalid. It’s not great for the partially sighted guys (B2/3) and it’s not great for those who are genuinely B1’s if people are not classified correctly (or at all). To be fair it’s not always clear which group someone should be in and genuine errors are made. However if someone is knowingly cheating they should be thrown out of the sport – it’s the Paralympic equivalent of doping in my option. If I were the IPC I would take one look at things and think it was too big a mess. This following the blackout glasses issues previously… Mind you, the Women’s VI category has similar issues to overcome but maybe not quite to the same extent. I might be wrong.
Maybe it was such a difficult task to chose the categories (I genuinly sympathise with whoever had this job) that they just got pulled out of hat.
Whatever the case it’s obviously very disappointing news, especially considering the work and investment made myself and lots of others people who have provided great help and support over the past 5 seasons.
So having probably caused an uproar with my previous comments above, what now? Good question…I’m expecting to continue in triathlon because it’s a great sport! As a result of doing tri I’ve visited loads of great places and met a lot of nice people along the way. There’s plenty still left to do too as there will still be European and World championships events for my category to aim for. As a triathlete, I’d really like to see the sport develop and achieve it’s potential. I’d like to see all categories participate at the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo…I might be a bit past it by then though, or maybe not! For now though, there a few question marks around what happens next year if I continue doing the same events; will we still have factoring next year, will it be the same?. Funding from UK sport will undoubtedly be cut now there won’t be any Paralympic medals to play for, but my main concern is that a lot of the guys will move out of ITU Paratriathlon into Ironman events or indeed go to other sports.
In a way you can’t blame people if one dream has been ended but they have other objectives within the sport they want to achieve or they still have a realistic chance of making Rio in another sport. I’d also like to try my hand at some longer distance triathlon events at some stage (Gulp!). I’m not a big fan of people hopping from one sport to another as often happens with the Paralympics though. However, having previously competed internationally including the at the Sydney 2000 Games I am also looking into the viability of going back to cycling with Rio in mind. It’s a long, long shot at best for lots of different reasons but whatever happens I will no doubt continue to enjoy triathlon in some form or other!