Para-swimming will see some big changes this year, with the IPC (International Paralympic Committee) rolling out an updated manual with new rules on classification.
IPC swimmers are each classified into one of fourteen different classes, to allow swimmer to compete against others with the same physical attributes: missing limbs, visual impairments, etc.
Paralympic star Mallory Weggemann produced an excellent piece last summer explaining the classification system in more detail; you can read that story here.
The current classification system has hit some snags in the past few years, though. Before the 2012 Paralympics in London, several athletes (including Weggemann and fellow American Justin Zook) were reclassified to new classes at the last minute leading the IPC to spread their classification screenings out in order to avoid such last-minute suprises.
This summer, controversy brewed at the IPC World Championships in Glasgow, with Australia’s Maddison Elliott being reclassified multiple times during the meet. A U.S. coach tweeted critical comments about the reclassification and was removed from the coaching staff for the ParaPan Am Games later in the summer.
Then there’s the case of Ian Silverman, who was abruptly classified right out of IPC Swimming when the IPC ruled that he was no long considered a para-swimmer, despite having cerebral palsy.
With all of that chaos in mind, the IPC has updated its rules and regulations with some very different classification procedures. Tom Miazga, a star of the U.S. Paralympics Team, helped walk us through the changes:
Water Test Changes
- Swimmers must now swim a full 50 meters of each stroke (previously less than a 25)
- Freestyle must include a turn (a flip turn or other turn if the athlete does not use flip turns) with 5 meters of swimming after the turn
- Everything must be done at race pace
- Classifiers must declare why they added points to a swimmer’s class during a water test
- The point breakdown between starts and turns is defined with more clarity under the new rules
Miazga notes that the third point could be the most contentious, as it obviously comes with some subjectivity as to what each individual’s “race pace” truly is.
General Classification Changes
- Classifiers need to have one of two qualifications in order to classify athletes:
- Be a certified health professional in a field relevant to the impairment of the athlete being classified
- Have extensive coaching or other background in IPC swimming and expertise on the subject (as determined by the IPC)
- Height restrictions for the S6 and S7 classes, which are typically for those with dwarfism or a similar condition
- S6/SB6: Men must be 137cm or below, women 130cm
- S7/SB7: Men must be 145cm or below, women 137cm
Tom told us the changes look like improvements in the realm of clarity, with a “noticeable change in the level of detail provided.”
You can view the new IPC Swimming Manual here (effective September 2015), and you can compare it to this old manual from May of 2011.