Triathlon Canada has developed one of the top para-sport programs in the world over the last decade under the leadership of head coach and Olympian, Carolyn Murray.
One of the newest sports added to the Paralympic Games family, para triathlon debuted at the 2016 Rio Games where Canada’s Stefan Daniel celebrated a silver medal. Since that breakthrough day on Copacabana Beach, the sport has not lost sight of its two major goals: introduce more Canadians with a disability to triathlon; and develop more Canadian medal winners.
The program receives top marks for achieving its mission to date having gone on to celebrate multiple international podium performances by Daniel, who is now a four-time World Champion; Ontario’s Jessica Tuomela, who is ranked third in the world and won a bronze medal at the 2019 World Championships; and multiple podium performances by Kamylle Frenette – a rising talent from New Brunswick.
There are six medal classifications for both men and women. People with various types of impairments take part in the sport, including wheelchair users, amputees, and visually impaired athletes. They are classified according to their capabilities and may use adapted equipment to assist their movement – for example, paraplegic competitors or wheelchair users may use a manual bicycle called a handcycle, turning the pedals with their hands, for the cycling stage, and compete in the race in a wheelchair.
While still a relatively new sport, Triathlon Canada is looking to build on its successful foundation to develop more para-triathletes and coaches across the country at all levels of the sport – from those interested in community sport to those dreaming of chasing the podium at the Paralympic Games.
As a Paralympic sport, para triathlon is made up of a 750-metre swim, 20-kilometre bike and a five-kilometre run with time spent in transition between each discipline contributing to the athlete’s total event time (also referred to as a “sprint” triathlon). However, there are racing opportunities and para athletes competing in triathlon events over every distance. The umbrella of “triathlon” also encompasses additional formats collectively referred to as “multisport”. These include duathlon, aquathlon, aquabike, cross triathlon, and long distance triathlon. There are lots of opportunities and possibilities within this sport!
The starting point for all athletes should be connecting with para-sport organizations within their communities. These organizations will provide a strong foundation for competition in any para sport. See the “resources” section below for information on community programs.
The Community and High Performance streams outlined below are two unique pathways with different participation and competition goals. However, athletes can move between the two streams at any time. Classification is only required once an athlete has been identified for High Performance competition, and this is done at an International Triathlon Union (ITU) event.
Community Sport Pathway
- Complete an Intake Form
- Connect with a regional para triathlon representative
- Connect with a coach and a triathlon club
- Source equipment and establish appropriate training facilities
- Develop a training program and competition goals
High Performance Sport Pathway
- Complete an Intake Form & an ITU Medical Diagnostic Form
- Set up an interview for national program entry
- Attend a talent identification Camp
- Establish an optimal Daily Performance Environment
- Complete Classification / International competition
How to join the program
The first point of entry for the paratriathlon program, regardless of pathway, is completion of an Intake Form. This form is used to collect basic information to determine the best route forward for any athlete looking to join the sport and is the mechanism for expressing interest.
Triathlon Canada is currently working to develop more regional para triathlon representatives and coaches to better support this program.
Sourcing equipment can seem to be a daunting task, but there are many programs in place to help with this process. You do NOT need a brand new handcycle or racing chair to get involved in para triathlon. Different equipment is needed for different categories. Here is a quick summary of specialty equipment needs:
- Swim – a pair of wetsuit pants may be needed (floatation)
- Bike – a handcycle is required
- Run – a racing wheelchair is required
- Swim – approved physical adaptations are permitted
- Bike – approved physical and bike adaptations are permitted
- Run – approved physical adaptations are permitted
- Swim – a swim tether is required
- Bike – a tandem bike is required
- Run – a run tether is required
*Note: PTVI1 athletes are required to wear blackout goggles/glasses for the full duration of the race.
How to source equipment
There is a good support system in place for obtaining specialized para equipment. The best place to start is with the list of para sport organizations provided in the “resources” section below. There are also often grants available to help cover any costs that can be accessed through the provincial sport system.
Competition Classes & Classification
There are 6 medal events representing sport classes in para triathlon defined as follows; there are detailed descriptions for each provided in the sections below:
- PTWC – Wheelchair users (2 subclasses – PTWC1 & PTWC2)
- PTS2 – Severe impairments*
- PTS3 – Significant impairments*
- PTS4 – Moderate impairments*
- PTS5 – Mild impairments*
- PTVI – Total or partial visual impairments (3 subclasses – PTVI1, PTVI2, & PTVI3)
*athletes may use approved prosthesis or other supportive devices for both the bike and run segments
Para Triathlon Wheelchair (PTWC) Classes
The PTWC class includes athletes with comparable activity limitations and an impairment of (but not limited to) muscle power, limb deficiency, hypertonia, ataxia or athetosis. This class includes two subclasses: PTWC1 & PTWC2. PTWC1 are the most impaired wheelchair users, and PTWC2 are the least impaired wheelchair users. All athletes within the PTWC class must use a recumbent handcycle on the bike course and a racing wheelchair on the run course.
The PTWC1 and PTWC2 classes compete together using a staggered start system. The PTWC1 class receives the first start time, followed by the PTWC2 class. For example (race clock time):
- Start 1 – PTWC1 Men: 0:00
- Start 2 – PTWC2 Men: +3:08
- Start 3 – PTWC1 Women: 0:00
- Start 4 – PTWC2 Women: +4:08
Please see the current ITU Competition Rules to confirm start differentials.
Para Triathlon Standing (PTS) Classes
The PTS category includes athletes with lower and/or upper limb limitations. This class includes 4 subclasses (PTS2, PTS3, PTS4, PTS5). The lower class numbers represent the greatest limitations ranging from severe to mild. Each subclass includes athletes with comparable activity limitations including (but not limited to) limb deficiency, hypertonia, ataxia and/or athetosis and impaired muscle power/range of movement.
Regulated by the International Triathlon Union (ITU), use of approved prosthesis or other support devices for both the run and bike segments are permitted, as are bike modifications.
Each PTS sub-class has a stand-alone male/female start time with results compiled by sub-class.
Para Triathlon Visually Impaired (PTVI) Classes
The PTVI category includes athletes with visual impairments. This class includes 3 sub-classes based on the level of visual impairment (PTVI1, PTVI2 & PTVI3).
- PTVI1 represents athletes who have complete blindness in both eyes,
- PTVI2 represents athletes with partial sight with severe limitations, and
- PTVI3 represents athletes with partial sight with less severe limitations.
Like all para triathlon classes – there is a range of participants categorized into each sub-class. PTVI1 athletes are required to wear blackout goggles/glasses for the duration of the race to guarantee an even playing field.
All PTVI athletes race with a sighted guide. A tandem bike is required for the bike segment. A tether must be used during the swim and run portions of the event. For high performance racing, the guide must meet the following criteria:
- Must be the same guide for the full duration of the event (swim, bike, run)
- Must be the same nationality as the athlete
- Must be the same gender as the athlete
The PTVI classes compete together using a staggered start system. The PTVI1 class receives the first start time, followed by the PTVI2/3 classes. For example (race clock time):
- Start 1 – PTVI 1 Men: 0:00
- Start 2 – PTVI 2/3 Men: +3:21
- Start 3 – PTVI 1 Women: 0:00
- Start 4 – PTVI 2/3 Women: +3:48
Please see the current ITU Competition Rules to confirm start differentials.
The process for being classified varies depending on the nature of each athlete’s impairment. A classification appointment may take between 30 minutes and 2 hours. The process assesses how each athlete’s impairment impacts ability to compete in triathlon. An outcome is determined based on tested ability, rather than on disability. Classification is handled by an ITU classification panel with the exception of Visual Impairment classifications which are completed by the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA).
The athlete evaluation process consists of the following:
- Submission of an ITU Impairments Medical Diagnostic Form
- A physical assessment
- A technical assessment
- An observation assessment
The ITU Impairments Medical Diagnostic Form must be completed by a physician or a consultant prior to the classification appointment.
The physical assessment is completed by the classification panel to establish whether the athlete has an Eligible Impairment that meets the relevant Minimum Disability Criteria.
The technical assessment is completed by the classification panel to determine the athlete’s ability to perform specific tasks and activities that are part of triathlon (swim, bike, and/or run) in a non-competitive environment. Additional assessments may also be required.
The observation assessment is completed to ensure that the results of the athlete’s physical and technical assessments are reflected in the athlete’s ability to perform in the competition.
All of the downloadable resource documents for para triathlon are available at the link provided below. This includes intake forms, pathway information and a full list of international, national and provincial support organizations.
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