SAN DIEGO, September 1, 2012 – Labor Day Weekend is a great time to check in on the exciting action at the Paralympic Games. Most of the key action takes place early in the day Eastern Time, between 5 a.m. and 2 p.m. Live and on-demand coverage of all Paralympic sports can be viewed on the excellent Paralympics YouTube website. along with summary reports aired daily, available on demand as they are produced.
The 4,200 athletes competing in the Paralympic Games now underway in London participate in fewer sports than in the Olympic Games: 21 sports, versus 32 sports in the Olympics. See the full schedule of the 21 Paralympic sports here.
Many of the events would be familiar to any sports fan. Some of them have novel adaptations for participants to accommodate the loss of limbs, paralysis, or vision impairment. A few are unique to the Paralympic Games alone.
If you’re new to the Paralympics as many sports fans are, we offer this event guide to the Games.
Each athlete competing at the Paralympic Games has gone through “classification.” Technical officials appointed by the international governing organization of each sport evaluate the athlete’s impairment and how it impacts their ability to perform certain required functions of the sport. It is ongoing, and can change as the athlete’s condition changes.
Classification defines which athletes can compete in each sport, and ensures a level playing field by assigning the athletes into classes based on their ability to perform certain activities. These are the codes you will see within each sport.
Some athletes compete against only other athletes in their classification. In other sports, all of the athletes compete no matter their classification. Then a complicated points system takes over, called “Raza,” to determine the winner. It’s not unlike the handicapping system in golf, just more complex. The algorithm takes into account the athlete’s throw or jump distance against the impairment level.
Familiar sports featured in the Paralympic Games include:
ARCHERY: There are three classes - ST (standing); W1 (wheelchair 1) – athletes compete from a seated position and have an impairment that affects their arms, legs and trunk; and W2 (wheelchair 2) – athletes compete from a seated position and have an impairment that affects their legs and trunk.
ATHLETICS: This is what we know as track and field in the United States. This includes athletes with physical impairments, visual impairments and intellectual impairments. Athletics has the most classes of any sports.
Visually impaired track athletes run with a guide runner, connected by a short tether. Athletes who are amputees are in another group. Wheelchair racers and field athletes who throw or toss from a seated position or wheelchair are in their own group. Athletes with cerebral palsy compete in their own group as well. The marathon category has three classes: vision impairment, amputees, and wheelchair racers.
CYCLING: Physically and visually impaired athletes can compete in cycling. Visually impared cyclists compete on a tandem bicycle with a sighted “pilot” rider on the front. Cyclists who are amputees or otherwise have impairments but are able can compete using a standard bicycle. There are cycling events using handcycles and tricycles to accommodate riders who have impairments to their legs or balance issues.
EQUESTRIAN: There are five classes in the equestrian category, ranging from severely impaired athletes riding with spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy or other paralysis; athletes with impairments but who have reasonable balance; visually impaired riders; and riders with minimally impaired vision or impaired arms or legs.
SOCCER: At the Paralympics, soccer is referred to as football. There is “Five-A-Side” and “Seven-A-Side” Football. Five-A-Side players are visually impaired, separated into three levels: Blind, impaired, and partially sighted. Seven-A-Side players have cerebral palsy and compete in one of four levels according to their ability to run or walk, and their coordination.
JUDO: Judo competitors in the Paralympics are visually impaired. All degrees of impairment compete together. Athletes classified as blind have a red circle sewn onto the sleeves of their uniforms and officials apply certain rules according to their circumstances (for example, going out of bounds).
POWERLIFTING: Athletes with lower body impairment that prohibits them from weighlifting using their legs compete here. They are divided only by weight classes.
ROWING: Physically and visually impaired rowers compete in three classes, depending on the type of boats used to accommodate the athletes: “Arms and shoulders” rowers who have limited trunk control and row in single sculls; “Trunk and arms” rowers who compete in mixed double scull boats; and “Legs, trunk and arms” rowers that have various levels of impairment and mix together in mixed coxed four boats.
SAILING: Physically and visually impaired compete in sailing. The classification system for sailing assigns a point score to each athlete based on their ability to perform activities within the sport. There are three categories of boat at the Paralympics with three, two, or single person teams. Each boat uses its own classification points system to make up a team.
SHOOTING: Shooters compete in two divisions: athletes who can support the weight of the firearm with no help, and use either a rifle or pistol; and athletes who use a shooting stand, rifle only.
SWIMMING: All types of impaired athletes are eligible to compete in swimming. The classifications group athletes defined by the ability to perform the strokes of swimming. Since the breaststroke relies more on leg propulsion that the other strokes, there are different classes in these events. This also affects medley races. The number of different impairment types combined with the number of strokes means that swimming has a high number of events.
TABLE TENNIS: There are 11 different classes in table tennis for athletes with physical, visually, and intellectual impairments. Some players compete sitting down.
In the next group are team sports configured to accommodate athletes who are not able to stand normally.
SITTING VOLLEYBALL: Sitting volleyball is divided in two classes: athletes with impairments of “great impact,” or “lesser impact.” Minimally disabled athletes may actually be able to stand, but have a significant injury to a knee or hip. Only one “MD” athlete can be playing on a side at any one time.
WHEELCHAIR BASKETBALL: All athletes compete in wheelchairs, grouped into eight classes according to the level of physical function rated on a point scale from one to 4.5 points. The five team members cannot have a total point value added together of more than 14.
WHEELCHAIR FENCING: Athletes with a physical impairment that affects at least one leg or foot are eligible to compete. Category A athletes have good trunk control and their fencing arm is not affected by their impairment; Category B athletes have an impairment that affects either their trunk or fencing arm.
WHEELCHAIR RUGBY: Similar to basketball, athletes are rated with a point system. Teams cannot have a total on-court point value of more than eight points for the four players on each side during play. Wheelchair rugby is a co-ed sport. For every female player a team fields on court, the maximum points level goes up by 0.5.
WHEELCHAIR TENNIS: Athletes with a physical impairment that affects their ability to move around the court and prevents them from competing with able-bodied tennis players are eligible to compete. The two classes are the Open Class, athletes with an impairment of one or both legs that does not affect their arms or hands; and the Quad Class, athletes have an impairment that affects their arms and legs, which limits their ability to handle the racket and to move a wheelchair compared with the open class. Tennis is another co-ed sport: men and women compete together in these events.
There are two sports in the Paralympics unique to these games alone.
BOCCIA: Athletes with a physical impairment that affects controlled movement in all four limbs are eligible to compete in four classes: players who can kick or throw the ball; players at a slightly higher level who can kick or throw; athletes who cannot kick or throw the ball more than ten feet without help and use a ramp; and athletes with an impairment other than cerebral palsy who have difficulty in throwing the ball.
GOALBALL: Goalball makes its debut this year in the Paralympics. It was originally developed after World War II as a way to help rehabilitate returning military veterans. It’s a wild, fast moving contest with elements of fast pitch softball, soccer, lacrosse, and handball. Games have two halves of 12 minutes. Players throw a ball larger than an American softball with an underhand motion toward the opposition goal, at speeds of up to 60 mile an hour. The players are expected to throw themselves in front of the ball to block it from the goal. Let’s say it again: the ball is moving 60 miles an hour.
Athletes with a visual impairment are eligible to compete. All athletes must wear eyeshades to ensure fairness. This allows athletes with differing degrees of visual impairment to compete together. The ball has two bells in it that ring to let the players know its location and direction.
Give the Paralympic Games a try and you might surprise yourself just how quickly you’ll feel involved in the competition.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She writes on professional cycling and covers the Sweet Science for Communities, along with other news in the sports world. Read more Ringside Seat in the Communities at The Washington Times. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.
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