Rio 2016: Canoe Sprint and Triathlon Come to the 2016 Summer Paralympics

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On September 7-18, worldwide attention will turn to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the 15th Summer Paralympic Games. Over the course of the event, para-athletes from across the globe will compete in 23 different sports. This year, canoe sprint and triathlon have been added to the lineup for the first time.

CANOE SPRINT

The canoe sprint is a misnomer in that competing athletes will actually be paddling kayaks, not canoes. Athletes will use a double-blade paddle to navigate the 200-meter-long, straight-line course. They will be paired off during five heats, with the winners advancing to the finals and the others going to the semifinals. The three top competitors after the semifinals then advance to the finals. There will be a men's and women's competition, and athletes will be grouped by classification level, as follows:

  • KL1: Athletes who have no or very limited trunk function and no leg function
  • KL2: Athletes who have partial trunk and leg function, are able to sit upright in the kayak, and have limited leg movement during paddling
  • KL3: Athletes who have trunk and partial leg function, are able to sit with the trunk in a forward flexed position in the kayak, and are able to use at least one leg or prosthetic leg

CANOE SPRINT SPOTLIGHT ON KELLY ALLEN AND ALANA NICHOLS

Kelly Allen

Kelly Allen (at right) and Alana Nichols (below) were the first athletes to qualify for the U.S. Paralympic Paracanoe Team during the 2016 International Canoe Federation Paracanoe World Championships in Duisburg, Germany, in May. Allen became the first athlete to qualify in the KL3 classification. She took up the sport in 2012, having transitioned from competitive skiing, and won a national championship after just one month of full-time training. Allen was born with proximal femoral focal deficiency (PFFD) type D, meaning she is missing her left femur, patella, and fibula, and her left hip socket is not fully developed; she has worn a prosthesis her whole life. Nichols became the first athlete to qualify in the KL2 classification level. She is a three-time Paralympic gold medalist in wheelchair basketball and alpine skiing. Her Paralympic career dates back to 2008. Nichols has paralysis from the waist down due to a 2002 snowboarding accident.

Alana Nichols

Photograph of Kelly Allen courtesy of the U.S. Paralympic Committee. Photograph of Alana Nichols courtesy of Sydney Prather.


The paracanoe competition will be held Wednesday, September 14, with the finals held the following day.

TRIATHLON

Triathlon features a sprint distance race in which athletes will compete in a 750-meter swim, a 20-kilometer bike ride, and a 5-kilometer run. Time spent in transitions—the segments between each of the disciplines when athletes ready themselves and their equipment for the next discipline—are included in the overall finish times. Competitors are permitted aid during transition and can choose their own helpers. The winner is the first athlete to complete the course.

TRIATHLON SPOTLIGHT ON HAILEY DANISEWICZ

Hailey Danisewicz

Hailey Danisewicz (PT2) became the first athlete to qualify for the U.S. Paralympic Triathlon Team. She took up the sport in 2011, is currently ranked number one in the world in the PT2 category, and was named the 2015 USA Triathlon Paratriathlete of the Year. Danisewicz was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in her left leg at age 12, and at age 14 underwent a transfemoral amputation. Photograph courtesy of The Hartford and Danisewicz

There are five classes in Paralympic triathlon, as detailed below, and in each class the competitors must have comparable activity limitations or impairments. However, at the Rio Summer Games, there will be three classes of events for men (PT1, PT2, and PT4) and three classes for women (PT2, PT4, and PT5).

  • PT1: Athletes who use wheelchairs. Includes athletes with comparable activity limitation and an impairment of, but not limited to: muscle power, limb deficiency, hypertonia, ataxia, and/or athetosis that prevents the ability to safely ride a conventional bike and run. Athletes must use a recumbent handcycle on the bike course and a racing wheelchair on the run segment.
  • PT2: Includes athletes with comparable activity limitation and an impairment of, but not limited to, limb deficiency, hypertonia, ataxia, and/or athetosis, impaired muscle power or range of movement that through classification assessment have a score of up to 454.9 points. In both bike and run segments, athletes with amputations may use approved prosthetic or other supportive devices.
  • PT3: Similar to PT2, but through classification assessment the athlete must have a score from 455.0 to 494.9 points. In both bike and run segments, the athlete may use approved prosthetic or other supportive devices.
  • PT4: Similar to PT2 and PT3, but through classification assessment the athletes must have a score from 495.0 to 557.0 points. In both bike and run segments, the athlete may use approved prosthetic or other supportive devices.
  • PT5: Total or partial visual impairment (defined sub-classes B1, B2, and B3). One guide is mandatory throughout the race, and a tandem bike must be ridden during the bike segment.

The paratriathlon competition will be held Saturday, September 10, and Sunday, September 11.

Editor's note: Classification descriptions for paratriathlon were provided by the International Triathlon Union website.