Sophia Warner - a T35 100m and 200m runner - explains the classification system for track and field athletes at the Paralympics.
The primary purpose of classification is to enable athletes, as far as possible, to compete against others with similar restrictions.
How is classification carried out?
With a technical and a physical assessment, and sometimes through observation during competition.
Who carries out classification?
An 'international classification panel' which must be made up of certified classifiers. There's a minimum of two classifiers, one of whom must be a medical classifier.
As with all the categories, the lower the number, the more severe the disability
How does it work?
A classification is made up of a letter and a two-digit number. The letter is either a T or an F. This is simply T for track or F for field. The letter prefixes the number, so I am classed as a T35, for example.
The first number typically represents your disability and the secondary number is the degree to which you have it:
All classifications that start with a 1 are for the visually impaired. This category runs from 11–13.
As with all the categories, the lower the number, the more severe the disability.
A T11/F11 is considered to be totally blind and will compete using a 'blackout device'.
Athletes in this classification are permitted to run with a sighted guide, while field athletes in the class are allowed the use of acoustic signals, for example electronic noises, clapping or voices.
For athletes competing with a guide runner, the athlete must cross the finish line in front of the guide runner or the athlete will be disqualified.
A T12/F12 will also usually compete with a guide runner. Although it is not a requirement by the rules, it is usually a requirement by the athlete.
A T13/F13 has the lowest visual impairment and does not run with a guide runner.
This is for athletes with intellectual impairments. This category has a limited representation at the Paralympic Games and there are games held specifically for these athletes.
Typically a T35/F35, the most severely affected ambulant cerebral palsy athlete, is both lower limbs affected and sometimes an arm as well
These eight classifications are for athletes with cerebral palsy and are far more complex to explain than this article allows. Here is a simplified summary:
T31/F31 through to T34/F34 are wheelchair or seated athletes, so they race in wheelchairs or throw from a seated position.
Very simply put, the variance from a 31 to a 34 is based on levels of spasticity, coordination and its impact on function to perform the sport of choice.
For wheelchair racers and seated throwers, trunk and arm function are the main measures.
T35/F35-T38/F38 are ambulant athletes, i.e. able to walk.
Typically a T35/F35, the most severely affected ambulant cerebral palsy athlete, is both lower limbs affected (diplegic) and sometimes an arm as well (triplegic).
A T36/F36 is all limbs equally affected and this largely causes coordination problems, although the T36 athlete usually has better function in the lower limbs than the T35, particularly when running.
A T37/F37 has cerebral palsy down one side of the body and a T38/F38 has one limb affected.
F40 is a classification for field athletes who have dwarfism, either genetically or developmentally. For males the height limit is 145cm and for females 140cm.
This is a classification for throwing events only.
Paralympic classification can be a confusing but it's necessary so that athletes can compete on a 'level playing field'
These classifications are for amputees and other athletes with equivalent impairments.
Often you will see these classifications combined where deemed appropriate - either like-for-like (i.e. double leg amputees racing with single leg amputees) or in other instances you will see classifications combined on a points-based system in many field events.
For example, the throwing events and the long jump combine some of these classes and a structured points system is used to determine the winner.
T42/F42 - Single above the knee amputation
T43/F43 - Double below the knee amputation
T44/F44 - Single below the knee amputation
(This is the classification in which Oscar Pistorius now competes, although, as a double amputee, he qualifies for the T43 classification)
T45/F45 - Double arm amputation
T46/F46 - Single arm amputation
Athletes in classes 42, 43 and 44 must wear a prosthesis while competing, but this is optional for classes 45 and 46.
Athletes who are in a wheelchair due to spinal cord injury or are an amputee (as opposed to having cerebral palsy) are in classes 51 – 58.
Classifications T51-T54 are for athletes in a wheelchair who are competing in track events.
An athlete who is classed as either T51 or T52 has restricted movement in their upper limbs.
An athlete who is classed as T53 has restricted movement in their abdominals.
An athlete who is classed as T54 is completely functional from the waist up.
Classifications F51–F58 are for athletes in a wheelchair who are competing in field events, the amount of upper body movement and function ranging from severely restricted for F51 athletes to unrestricted for F58 athletes.
The world of Paralympic classification can be a confusing one, but it is necessary so that athletes can compete on a 'level playing field', resulting in close-run races and hard-fought field events.
The knowledge that they are watching a ‘fair fight’ is also an important element in the spectators’ enjoyment.
I have attempted to simplify the classifications as much as I can. Now I leave it to the wordsmiths in the media to make things even simpler for their readers and viewers to understand.