New system to classify Paralympic athletes

U. QUEENSLAND (AUS) — An exercise scientist leads the development of a new, more objective classification system for Paralympic athletes.

The classification system assesses athletes’ impairments and assigns them to sporting classes.

Sean Tweedy, from the School of Human Movement Studies at the University of Queensland, is Chief Investigator on the International Paralympic Athletics Classification Project, which aims to develop a new, evidence-based method of classification to replace the current methods, which are based principally on clinical judgment.

The first of the project’s two stages has been completed and will be implemented internationally for all Paralympic meets immediately after the 2012 London Paralympic Games.

“This first stage aimed to develop objective, valid methods for determining which athletes are eligible for Paralympic athletics,” says Tweedy.

“The second stage is currently underway and aims to provide an objective means of ensuring that the athletes who succeed in Paralympic sport will not be those who are less disabled than others, but those who have the best physiological and psychological attributes and have enhanced them to best effect.

“As each sport at the Paralympic Games requires different skills and competencies, the impact of impairment on the performance of the athletes varies. That’s why each sport has its own unique classification rules.”

Tweedy has a major interest in the challenge of classification in Paralympic sport and has been classifying internationally since 1993. He is now the Head of Classification for Paralympic Athletics.

“Classification is a critical element of Paralympic sport but, because it is so important to the results, it can sometimes be quite controversial,” he says.

“Although classification is also used in Olympic sport, the challenges associated with classifying athletes according to sex or body mass are relatively minor.

“Classification in Paralympic sport is more challenging because athletes must be classified according to how much their disability impacts on their sports performance, and the range of disabilities varies enormously, including spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy, limb deficiency, brain injury, and vision impairment.

“A key objective of the system that we are working on is to reduce the number of controversies and increase the level of certainty about classification decisions.”

Tweedy will spend three weeks at the 2012 London Paralympic Games working as a classifier.

In this role he will work as part of a team to assess any new athletes (e.g., athletes who achieved qualifying standards late in the season), monitor athlete performances, and rule on classification protests.

Although Tweedy is a keen follower of the Olympic Games, his real passion is for the Paralympic competition. This year’s Paralympics run from August 29 to September 9.

“To make it to the top in any sport is incredibly difficult, but I think Paralympic sport is the toughest of all,” he says.

“The Paralympic Games are a tremendous sporting event with truly inspiring performances.”

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