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USAT Expands Competitive Opportunities for Paratriathletes
The Physically Challenged Division was developed, in part, out of concerns from visually impaired paratriathletes about potentially being required to wear blackout glasses on the run portion of USAT-sanctioned events following the implementation of a new competitive rule by the International Triathlon Union (ITU), and in turn USAT, in 2010.
The creation of the Physically Challenged Division allows USAT-sanctioned race directors to define how disabled categories – including the visually impaired category – can be designed to suit the competitor audience of their specific races, making it possible to have multiple classifications within a disabled category. Visually impaired athletes competing domestically in the Physically Challenged Division will not be required to race with blackout glasses.
The only event in the United States this year where the use of all ITU paratriathlon categories and regulations – including the “blackout glasses” rule – will be mandated is the 2010 USA Paratriathlon National Championship, slated for July 18 in New York City. This event is the lone qualifier for the 2010 ITU Paratriathlon World Championship. Athletes hoping to qualify for Team USA for the 2010 World Championship must adhere to all ITU and USAT competitive rules in New York. Additionally, there will be a non-qualifying Physically Challenged Division at the New York event for athletes who want to race without competing under ITU rules.
“The implementation of the Physically Challenged Division will allow for paratriathletes of all levels to compete in, and enjoy, the majority of multisport events,” said USA Triathlon CEO Skip Gilbert. “The blackout glasses rule only impacts those athletes who want to compete for international titles. All other athletes racing domestically have the ability to compete as they always have without the blackout glasses.”
In conjunction with ITU, USAT has been dedicated to developing the sport of paratriathlon for more than 15 years, and achieving program status in the Paralympic Games is their ultimate goal.
In keeping with the International Paratriathlon Committee’s classification strategy, which ensures that “winning is determined by skill, fitness, power, endurance, tactical ability and mental focus” as in sport for athletes who do not have disabilities, ITU seeks to organize the best possible classification system in the world championship events.
According to the classification code, ITU offers a visually impaired category with a single classification. To ensure that all visually impaired athletes compete on a level playing field, the competition rule requires all athletes to wear blackout glasses on the run portion. As a member federation of ITU, USA Triathlon applies the same classification code to the 2010 USA Paratriathlon National Championship – scheduled for July 18 in New York City – only to athletes wishing to qualify for the ITU Paratriathlon World Championship.
“Due to the limited number of visually impaired athletes who have historically competed on the international level, only one classification currently exists in the visually impaired or TRI-6 category. At the past six ITU Paratriathlon World Championships there have been only 12 different TRI-6 athletes who have competed from just five countries worldwide,” said Jon Beeson, chairman of USA Triathlon’s Paratriathlon Committee. “Because of the distinct advantage to having partial vision as opposed to being totally blind, the playing field was leveled by ITU by requiring all visually impaired athletes to wear blackout glasses on the run portion of a triathlon.”
In addition to the TRI-6 category, TRI-1 athletes (handcycle) also were faced with a major rule change in 2010. In order to level their playing field, they are now required to ride recumbent handcycles, as not all athletes in that category (i.e. paraplegics) can ride the “kneeling-position” bikes.
“Consistent rules in international qualifiers and world championship events are of the utmost importance for paratriathlon to remain a viable Paralymics candidate,” said Gilbert. “Given this goal, USAT, as well as athletes hoping to earn a spot on Team USA, must comply with the international rules in these events.”
The ITU and USAT paratriathlon committees, which include several experienced and decorated paratriathletes, are responsible for the development of paratriathlon rules on the international and national levels, respectively.
“USAT is sensitive to the fact that this rule may require some adjustments for athletes who are used to racing without blackout glasses and want to compete on the international level,” said Gilbert. “With more TRI-6 competitors, it may be possible for ITU to populate multiple classes of visually impaired athletes and eliminate the blackout rule in the future. Until then, the sport simply cannot allow an unfair advantage of this magnitude to exist and still be considered for future Paralympic inclusion. All paratriathletes are amazing competitors, and USA Triathlon is proud to be able to support their efforts.”
About USA Triathlon
USA Triathlon is proud to serve as the National Governing Body for triathlon – one of the fastest growing sports in the world – as well as duathlon, aquathlon and winter triathlon in the United States. USAT sanctions 3,100 races and connects with more than 133,000 members each year, making it the largest multisport organization in the world. In addition to its work with athletes, coaches, and race directors on the grassroots level, USAT provides leadership and support to elite athletes competing at international events, including World Championships, Pan American Games and the Summer Olympic Games.