Ready for Rio: Triathlon, 16 facts

By Jillian Clarke | Nov. 04, 2014, 4:17 p.m. (ET)
Mark Barr
Paralympian Mark Barr is known for his achievements in swimming, but he is one of the many Paralympic athletes who has made the transition to paratriathlon. 

Triathlon will make its Paralympics debut in Rio 2016, and there is no doubt that this sport is taking the Paralympic world by storm. Learn these 16 facts about paratriathlon before the Games begin!

1. Paralympic history
Paratriathlon will make its Paralympic Games debut at the Rio 2016 Games along with para-canoe.

2. Classifications
Paratriathlon classifications will be distinguished by PT followed by a number that represents a disability.

  • PT1 class- Wheelchair users use handcycles for the biking portion and a special wheelchair for the running portion.
  • PT2-PT4 classes- Athletes have physical limitations, such as impaired muscle power, and differ based on classification assessment scores. These athletes can use prosthetics or other approved devices.
  • PT5 class- Athletes have visual impairments and must compete with a guide.

3. Paratriathlon guides
Guides for paratriathletes competing in the PT5 sport class must be the same gender and from the same country as the athlete they are guiding.

4. Swim
Swimming is the first part of the paratriathlon competition. Athletes swim 750m, usually in open water. Guides for blind triathletes swim beside the athlete during the competition.

5. Bike
After swimming, athletes take on a 20km bike race. Blind athletes ride a tandem bicycle with their guide, who sits at the front of the bike.

6. Run
The final event of paratriathlon is a 5km run. For blind triathletes, guides run next to the athlete and usually hold hands or are tied together at the wrists.

7. At the Games
In its Paralympic Games debut, three paratriathlon sport classes will be contested per gender. Those sport classes include PT1, PT2 and PT4 for men, and PT2, PT4 and PT5 for women.

8. Side-by-side
Triathlon is one of few sports in which physically challenged athletes compete on the same course, often side-by-side, with able-bodied athletes.

9. Breaking records
The 2013 ITU Paratriathlon World Championships in London saw a record field, with 210 athletes from 26 nations on the start lists for the paratriathlon events. In 2014, the fields were limited to the top elite paratriathletes in the world.

10. National team criteria
The U.S. National Paratriathlon team is split into three tiers of elite athletes. The National A team consists of paratriathletes who have won a world championship. National B team members have won a silver medal at the world championships or have medaled at other international and national events. The third tier of the national team is the Emerging Team, in which members must have between a 3rd and 20th finish at certain international and national events in order to qualify.

11. The start of paratriathlon
The International Triathlon Union first opened an “athletes with a disability” category at its 2004 World Championships in Maderia, Portugal. Since then, more classes have been added to include a wider variety of athletes.   

12. Qualifying in 2015 
The winner of each sport class at the 2015 ITU Paratriathlon World Championships in Chicago will earn a spot for their national federation to compete in Rio.

13. Vying for a spot in Rio
For para-triathlon, countries are allowed to have two athletes per medal event compete at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. This means that each country has 12 qualification spots available.

15. Athletes to watch
A number of Paralympians in other sports have made the transition to paratriathlon in hopes of securing another Paralympic team spot. Krige Schabort (PT1, Rome, Ga.) has competed in three Paralympic Games (1992, 2000, 2012), winning silver and bronze in the marathon. The 2012 Paralympian and 2011 IPC world champion Chris Hammer (PT4, Salt Lake City, Utah) also has made the jump from track and field to paratriathlon. Mark Barr (PT2, Houston, Texas) was a two-time U.S. Paralympian, competing on the swim team in 2004 and 2008. U.S. Army veteran Melissa Stockwell (PT2, Chicago, Ill.) was Barr’s teammate in 2008 in Beijing. She was introduced to paratriathlon in 2009 and is a three-time paratriathlon world champion.

16. Where to watch in 2016
At the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, para-triathlon will take place in Fort Copacabana. Athletes and spectators will enjoy the oceanfront view along the exciting path of the event. Seating for approximately 4,600 spectators will line Atlantic Avenue.

To learn more about paratriathlon, visit USATriathlon.org.