Member of Team USA Competes in Paralympic ParatriathlonMember of Team USA Competes in Paralympic Paratriathlon

Paratriathlon

Paratriathlon is an exciting, multidisciplinary sport that includes swimming, cycling and running—three of the most acclaimed sports contested in the Paralympic Games. Indeed, in many competitions around the world, athletes with impairments compete alongside able-bodied athletes in triathlons of varying distances.

The first modern event to be called a triathlon was hosted by the San Diego Track Club in 1974. Over the span of the next decade, the sport exploded in popularity. In 1989, the first World Championships were held, and triathlon was accepted into the Olympic program for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.

Recognizing growing global support for the sport of triathlon, in 2010 the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) announced that paratriathlon would be included in the program of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. Now triathletes with impairments from around the world will get an unprecedented stage on which to compete.

 

TIMELINE

1974
First triathlon hosted by the San Diego Track Club

1989
International Triathlon Union founded

1989
First Triathlon World Championships held in France

2000
Triathlon debuts at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games

2016
Paratriathlon will debut at the Rio Paralympic Games

EVENTS

Paratriathlon consists of a sprint-distance race—750-meter swim, 20-kilometer bike ride and 5-kilometer run—that is exactly the half the distance of its Olympic counterpart.

Each gender has five possible classifications in paratriathlon, though only three per gender will be contested at the Rio 2016 Games: PT1, PT2 and PT4 for men and PT2, PT4 and PT5 for women (for a total of six events).

EQUIPMENT

Paratriathletes in sport class PT1 compete using a handcycle (modified bicycle powered with the hands) and a racing wheelchair.

Paratriathletes in PT2–4 use conventional bikes that may include approved adaptations, and they run with or without the use of an approved prosthesisDefinition: An artificial body part such as a leg or an arm. and/or supportive device.

Paratriathletes in PT5 ride a tandem bicycle and run and swim with a guide.

FAST FACTS

Vive la France: Many sport historians peg triathlon’s birth to France in the 1920s, when “Les Trois Sports” (“the three sports”) offered athletes an opportunity to run 3 kilometers, bike 12 kilometers and swim across the Marne River—all without a break in between.

Do the math: Most countries use the metric system, and Paralympic distances are usually presented as such. For the benefit of Americans, a bit of conversion: the paratriathlon consists of a 750-meter (roughly half-mile) swim, 20-kilometer (12.4-mile) bike ride and 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) run.

To wetsuit or not to wetsuit? In Paralympic competition, triathletes may wear a wetsuit during the swim portion of the competition if the water temperature is 28 degrees Celsius (82.4 degrees Fahrenheit) or less.

Athlete Spotlight:

Melissa Stockwell

A three-time world champion paratriathlete and a vocal advocate for the sport, Melissa Stockwell has every intention of being among the first Paralympic Games gold medalists in paratriathlon.

Long a multidiscipline athlete, Stockwell's dreams of being a world-class competitor date back to a childhood spent participating in gymnastics, track and diving. After graduating from the University of Colorado, she joined the United States Army and was deployed to Iraq. In 2004, Stockwell gained notoriety as the first female American soldier in history to lose a limb in active combat after a roadside bomb exploded next to her Humvee. Fazed but unbeaten, she immediately got to work reintegrating herself into the world of sports. She skied the slopes of Breckenridge as part of the Wounded Warrior Project and raced in the New York City marathon's wheelchair division.

As a swimmer, Stockwell set a goal to compete in the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games. She made the team and became the first Iraq War veteran to qualify for the Paralympics. She didn't medal, but she was nominated by her teammates to carry the U.S. flag at the Closing Ceremony. After the Beijing Games, Stockwell turned her focus completely to triathlon, which she had discovered through participation in the Challenged Athletes Foundation. Her work ethic and cross-discipline talent helped her to excel quickly, and she won the ITU Paratriathlon World Championships in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

When she's not competing, Stockwell fits other amputees with prostheticDefinition: An artificial body part, such as a leg or arm. devices. She is a cofounder of the Dare2tri Paratriathlon Club in Chicago.

Althete Spotlight Melissa Stockwell

CLASSIFICATION

Paratriathlon competition is open to male and female athletes with physical or visual impairments.

Note: The models presented below are examples. A classification evaluation must be performed to determine an athlete’s sport class(es).

Physical Impairment

Visual Impairment

Intellectual Impairment

Paratriathletes with physical impairments compete in sport classes PT1–4. Each is open to athletes with different types and severity of physical impairments, so you might see an athlete with a limb deficiency line up next to an athlete with a traumatic brain injury. The impact of each athlete’s impairment on sport performance, however, is similar within each sport class.

To determine an athlete’s sport class, classifiers assess his or her body using a point system and a weighing factor for each discipline of the sport (swimming, cycling and running). The total score determines the athlete’s sport class.

PT2–4

PT

2

PT

3

PT

4

Triathletes who can walk compete in PT2–4. These athletes swim, cycle on a conventional bike (with or without approved adaptations) and run with or without the use of an approved prosthesisDefinition: An artificial body part such as a leg or an arm. and/or supportive devices.

PT2

Triathletes competing in PT2 may have physical impairments such as leg amputationsDefinition: Amputate: to cut (as a limb) from the body., ataxia, athetosis or impaired range of movement. In both bike and run segments, amputee athletes may use approved prosthesisDefinition: An artificial body part such as a leg or an arm. or other supportive devices. At the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, two PT2 events will be held—one for men and one for women.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional

PT3

Triathletes competing in PT3 may have moderate loss of muscle power in all four limbs, a moderate neurological impairment such as ataxia or an arm amputationDefinition: Amputate: to cut (as a limb) from the body.. In both bike and run segments, athletes may use approved prostheses or other supportive devices. A PT3 event will not be held at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional

PT4

Triathletes with the mildest physical impairments—though still severe enough to qualify for the Paralympic Games—compete in PT4. In both bike and run segments, athletes may use approved prostheses or other supportive devices. At the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, two PT4 events will be held—one for men and one for women.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional

PT1

PT1

PT1 includes triathletes who are wheelchair users. Impairments may include cerebral palsyDefinition: Damage to the central nervous system., spinal cord injury and spina bifidaDefinition: A birth defect where a person. These triathletes must use a recumbent handcycle on the bike segment and a racing wheelchair on the run segment. At the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, a PT1 event will be held for men but not women.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional
 Competes in
Wheelchair

Paratriathletes with visual impairments compete in sport class PT5. Read more about athletes with visual impairments in the Paralympic Games. 

PT5

PT5

All triathletes, regardless of the severity of their visual impairments, compete in the same triathlon sport class. A time factor of approximately three to four minutes is added for athletes with more moderate and mild impairments. A guide of the same nationality and gender is mandatory throughout the race, and athletes must ride a tandem during the bike segment. At the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, a PT5 event will be held for women but not men.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional