Athletics were introduced at the Paralympic Games in 1960. Today, both field and track events have become very popular amongst disabled athletes. Even those with most severe disabilities can participate and be challenged in field events. All diagnosis groups are eligible to participate as long as they qualify under the minimum eligibility criteria of the classification system.
An integrated classification system is used to allow fair competition between athletes who have similar potential for each event. The present system allows athletes to compete in the following categories; visually impaired, (classes 10 – 13) intellectually impaired (class 20), Cerebral Palsy (classes 31 – 38), ambulatory (standing) athletes (classes 42 – 46) and wheelchair athletes (classes 51 – 58).
Classification numbers are given a “T” prefix for track events and an “F” prefix for field events. Within each category, the athletes will compete in a class, against other athletes who have a similar disability, or similar physical potential.
Track events are divided into running and wheelchair events, and include the 100m, 4 x 100m relay, 200m, 400m, 800m, 1500m, 5000m, 10 000m and 21.1km and 42.2km.
As with able body athletics, athletes compete according to age and gender. However, they have additional divisions according to their classification. This results in numerous events, often with only a few athletes participating in each one. Sometimes two events are run at the same time with athletes on the track together in different classes. (Picture: Jeffrey Letsoalo throws the discus at the recent Nedbank Championships)
In the wheelchair events, a lightweight racing wheelchair is used. For lower limb amputees, prostheses are compulsory for track events. Upper limb prostheses are optional. When an athlete with a hearing impairment competes, a flag or other visual signal may be used along with a pistol for starting.
Visually Impaired Events:
A visually impaired athlete in Class 11 or 12 may use a guide in track events. Different guiding options include a tether between guide and blind athlete. Some prefer running with elbows touching, and others prefer free running with verbal instructions from the guide. Each visually impaired athlete is given two lanes to allow for the guide. The guide may not pull the athlete, and must cross the finish line behind the athlete. If the race distance is longer than 400m, two guides are allowed for one exchange.
Field events are divided into seated and standing events. Long jump, High jump and Triple jump are only available for standing athletes. Shot-put, Discus and Javelin allow for different weights of implements, and generally seated athletes use lighter implements.
Athletes who are unable to stand use a throwing chair with maximum height of 75cm. Handles, footrests and various adaptations are made to meet each athlete’s individual needs. In the past, wheelchairs were secured by tie-downs, which were slow and unstable.
Visually Impaired Events
Long jump, high jump, discus, shot-put, javelin and triple jump are available to blind athletes. Visual and acoustical modifications are used to increase orientation, and vary according to the athletes’ needs.
For jumping events, blind athletes usually carefully measure paces, and then run up to the jump, trusting in the accuracy of the measurement. They may also use a guide to assist with orientation. High jumpers may touch the bar before jumping to help judge the height.
Class 12 (partially sighted athletes) may use visual modifications such as coloured tape to assist sighting a marker. In field events, an escort may orientate them to the throwing circle or runway. In Long jump and triple jump, the take-off area is prepared with chalk or talc so that the athlete’s take-off foot leaves and impression from which to measure distance.
Events for severe disabilities
Athletes must throw a weighted club for distance, or toss a weighted bean bag for height. Slalom is a test of speed and skill around a specially designed wheelchair course.
To keep up to date with our top athletes, go to: www.sasapd.org.za. For more information about sports and clubs, contact a convenor: Nombuso Gumbi (Juniors) 0724443331 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Tienie Labuschagne (Seniors) 0836575855 or email@example.com.