I am in awe of the Australian Paralympic athletes! Such enthusiasm and excitement at being at the event. Not a tear in sight at winning silver or bronze instead of gold, but instead they are enjoying the competition and atmosphere.
Yes, as observers we’re all struggling a bit with the classification system and Keith Lyons has helped to de-mystified it in his article Explainer: what is ‘classification’ at the Paralympics. I agree with Keith, the classification system is complex but shouldn’t and doesn’t take away from the overall enjoyment of the games. You just can’t help but respect the athletic performance.
As a classifier of vision impaired athletes I can only comment on the process for this category of athlete. The Australian Paralympic Committee is very supportive of classifiers and provides initial classification training with regular and on-going updates.
Classifying an athlete is free of charge in the true sense in that neither the athlete nor the committee pay the classifier for the assessment. The classifiers volunteer their time to provide this service. This therefore helps to support the athletes and to get them into the right category and on their way to both national and international competitions efficiently.
The purpose of classification is to provide an organised way to group athletes according to their visual ability into a category for the purpose of competition. This ensures that the competition is as fair as possible among athletes with different disabilities and as Keith rightly points out so that “all athletes have equal opportunities to compete”. The classification must be done in a professional way and is more than just measuring an athlete’s vision in the traditional sense where they would read a vision chart.
There are three vision impairment categories, B1, B2 and B3. A B1 athlete is not able to recognise any objects but can either only perceive light or have no perception of light at all. This is the most severe form of vision impairment and as it happens, only a small percentage of vision impaired people have vision loss to this degree.
A B2 classified athlete is able to recognise the shape of a hand, a letter 6cm large at 2 meters or have a visual field that extends out to less than 5 degrees (tunnel vision) and finally a B3 classified athlete can see a letter 6cm large at a distance of between 2 and 6 meters or have a visual field that extends more than 5 degrees but less than 20 degrees (less severe tunnel vision than B2).
Most of the vision impaired athletes in the Australian team are classified as either B2 or B3.
To put this in context, every aspect of their life is affected by the vision impairment. Driving, recognising faces, using computers or mobile phones, cooking, reading, grooming. All these activities are affected.
However, the athletes manage to overcome the obstacle and dazzle us with enthusiasm and athleticism making the event a pleasure to watch.