In the interest of fair competition, classifications come into effect, thus ensuring the number of medals on offer are far greater than what was available at the recently-concluded Summer Games.
With the celebrations of India’s richest medal haul at an Olympic Games still continuing, another set of athletes will compete at the same venues in Tokyo in the Paralympic Games that start on Tuesday.
Most competitions are similar, but there are clear differences as differently-abled athletes with various physical, visual and intellectual challenges will be seen in action. In the interest of fair competition, classifications come into effect, thus ensuring the number of medals on offer are far greater than what was available at the recently-concluded Summer Games.
Neeraj Chopra may have become the Olympic champion in men’s javelin throw, but at the Paralympics there are eight gold medals on offer for men and five for women in javelin throw – based on the competitors’ level of impairment. In other words, there will be eight men’s and five women’s javelin throw champions at the Paralympics.
Since each discipline has multiple champions, the number of events goes up. At the Paralympics, there will be 540 events across 22 sports – as opposed to 339 events in 33 sports at the Summer Olympics that ended on August 8. These numbers include those available in badminton (14 medals) and taekwondo (6), the two new disciplines to have been introduced to the Games this year.
Why are there classifications and what are they based on?
The idea is to ensure the field among athletes with impairments is as fair as possible. For example, it ensures that a one-leg amputee athlete is not competing in the same sprinting event as an athlete racing in a wheelchair.
The classifications are based on 10 impairments. They are, according to the official Tokyo Paralympics website, “Impaired muscle power, Impaired passive range of movement, Limb deficiency, Leg length difference, Short stature, Muscle tension, Uncoordinated movement, Involuntary movements, Vision impairment, Intellectual Impairment.”
Eight of the 10 classifications are based on physical impediments, along with one each addressing intellectual and visual limitations.
When are the classifications made and who makes the classifications?
The classifications are made days before an event, meaning athletes have to arrive at the venue well in advance. The reason for athletes being classified before each competition is that there is a chance their impediment may have changed, making them eligible to compete in a different classification. For example, an athlete’s vision may deteriorate over different editions of the Games.
Evaluations are made by officials called ‘classifiers.’
According to the International Paralympic Committee, “Each (International Federation) trains and certifies classifiers to conduct athlete evaluation in its sport. Classifiers assessing athletes with the various physical impairments… have a (Para) medical background and/or are technical experts in their sport. Classifiers for athletes with a vision impairment have a background in ophthalmology or optometry. Psychologists and sport experts are responsible for the classification of athletes with an intellectual impairment.”
How many events will be held at the Tokyo Paralympics?
The total number of events have gone up for this edition compared to Rio 2016. There will be 540 events in Tokyo across 22 sports, compared to 528 events in Rio. In comparison, there were 339 events in 33 sports at the Summer Games in Tokyo.
The reason for the bigger numbers is the different classifications. This means that, for example, there will be multiple men’s high jump Paralympic champions. There will be a 100m sprint champion who wins the race while on a wheelchair (T54), and another visually-impaired 100m dash winner who uses a guide to cross the finish line (T11).
In athletics, 49 gold medals were awarded at the Tokyo Olympics – including the shared gold medal in the men’s high jump. In the athletics discipline at the Paralympics, there will be 168 events to win gold medals in.
Similarly in swimming, 37 gold medals were awarded at the Olympics. For the Paralympics, there are 146 swimming events. So, while Caeleb Dressel was the only gold medal winner in the 50m men’s freestyle race at the Olympics, there will be eight different men’s 50m freestyle winners at the Paralympics based on their classification (for example: category S3 is for swimmers with leg or arm amputations, who have severe coordination problems in their limbs, or swim with their arms but without their trunks or legs, and category S13 is for swimmers with minor visual impairments).
Can an Olympian also be a Paralympian?
Yes. The most prominent example is South African blade runner and six-time Paralympic gold medallist Oscar Pistorius. He competed across three Paralympic Games (2004 Athens to 2012 London). He also reached the men’s 400m semi-final at the London Olympics.
Polish table tennis player Natalia Partyka (born without a right arm) is a five-time Paralympic gold medallist who also competed at four consecutive Olympic Games, the latest coming in Tokyo.
Another paddler, Sandra Paovic from Croatia competed at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. However, she was paralysed waist down after a car accident a year later. She competed at the Rio Paralympics in 2016, where she went on to win gold in the women’s singles C6 (athletes with physical impairment but competing from a standing position).
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