When it comes to sporting events, there’s nothing more large-scale; nothing more steeped in tradition and history; nothing more timeless than the Olympics. The world becomes a stage once every four years and athletes from all over the globe get together at one venue to establish their sporting might.
If Olympics is the essence of sport, Paralympics is its spirit. After all, nothing celebrates sports and gamesmanship more than an event involving the differently abled athletes. Nothing is a bigger indicator of the fact that sports are inclusive to and seeing these athletes overcome severe and debilitating physical challenges – right from paraplegia, quadriplegia, and amputation to ataxia, visual impairment, and intellectual deficits – to participate in a range of competitions is nothing short of inspirational.
And now, Paralympics gets bigger and better as a new sport which makes its debut in the 2016 version of the Games. The paratriathlon, a dramatic sport in which athletes compete in three high-octane activities – swimming, cycling, and running – will be unveiled for the first time at the Paralympic Games at Rio de Janeiro.
Before we get down to learning more about Paralympics 2016, let’s take a trip down memory lane and discover how it all started.
The History of Paralympics
Although athletes with disabilities have participated in the Olympic Games before the Paralympics were introduced to the world, the first organized athletic event for differently abled athletes took place on the opening day of the 1948 Summer Olympics in London.
It was a small gathering of British World War II veteran patients with spinal cord injuries who participated in a host of sports competitions. The games were hosted by German-born Dr. Ludwig Guttmann, who was keen on starting an elite sports competition for athletes with disabilities that matched the Olympics in scale and grandeur. It’s not an exaggeration to say that he kick-started something that, in a few years, went on to become one of the biggest sporting events in the world. However, until 1960, the Paralympic Games were open only to war veterans.
Rome 1960 was a watershed event in the history of the Paralympic Games because it was the first time the competition was thrown open to athletes with no war background. 400 athletes from 23 countries competed in the 1960 edition of the Games and since then, Paralympics have been held in the same year as the main Olympics event. In fact, since 1988, Paralympics are held almost immediately after the respective Olympic Games.
Just like Olympics, Paralympics also have summer and winter editions. The first Winter Paralympics were held in 1976 in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden.
Paratriathlon at Rio 2016
As Rio gets ready to welcome the paratriathlon to the fold of Paralympic competitions, fans are eager to see how this fascinating race unfurls on the world stage. What makes this competition even more interesting is the fact that it is one of the few events where differently abled athletes can compete along with able-bodied athletes, albeit for distances shorter than Olympic ones.
The Rio 2016 paratriathlon competition will begin with a 750 meter swim in open water at Copacabana, followed by a 20-km bike race and will conclude with a 5 km run. Visually impaired triathletes will be allowed to use guides, who must be of the same gender and from the same country.
The classes at the Rio paratriathlon depend on the nature of the triathlete’s physical disability and include the following:
- PT1 class – Wheelchair users use hand cycles for the biking part and a special wheelchair for the running part.
- PT2-PT4 classes – Athletes who have physical limitations, such as impaired muscle power, and differ based on classification assessment scores. These athletes can use prosthetics or other approved devices.
- PT5 class – Athletes who have visual impairments and must compete with a guide.
According to the official U.S. Paralympic website, the country’s paratriathlon team is split into three tiers:
- National A Team: This team consists of paratriathletes who have won a world championship.
- National B Team: Members of this team have won a silver medal at the world championships or medals at other international and national events.
- Emerging Team: This team consists of members who have finished between the 3rd and 20th positions at certain international and national events.
The website has also chosen a few paratriathletes as the ones to watch in Rio 2016:
- Krige Schabort (PT1, Rome, Ga.) has competed in three Paralympic Games (1992, 2000, and 2012), winning silver and bronze in the marathon and has now made the transition to paratriathlon.
- Chris Hammer (PT4, Salt Lake City, Utah), the 2012 Paralympian and 2011 IPC world champion, has also made the jump from track and field to paratriathlon.
- Mark Barr (PT2, Houston, Texas), two-time U.S. Paralympian competing on the swim team in 2004 and 2008, will also compete in the paratriathlon event at Rio.
- S. Army veteran Melissa Stockwell (PT2, Chicago, Ill.), Paralympian and Barr’s teammate in 2008 is a three-time paratriathlon world champion.
Paratriathlon is perhaps one of the toughest competitions in the world of athletics. It’s a sport in which paratriathletes push their mental and physical endurance to the limit while racing continuously across three kinds of sports. Needless to say, paratriathletes don’t just have to be physically strong, but also mentally resilient. They have to go through intense training just like any other Olympic-level athlete, but the challenges they have to overcome are so many more. Including the paratriathlon in Paralympics is a tribute to such athletes who continue to inspire us with their amazing stories!