“The IPC has made great improvements in the way athletes with a visual impairment are classified in recent years. What we are now doing is ensuring that all athletes are measured against the same more accurate testing methods and using the same instruments."
Ahead of the IPC Athletics European Championships in Swansea, Great Britain, which open on Monday (18 August), Ireland’s Jason Smyth, the reigning double Paralympic and World champion, has been reclassified from the T13 class to the T12 class due to the progression of his visual impairment; Stargardts disease.
Due to significant improvements in the way visually impaired athletes are classified since August 2011, IPC Athletics requested that all athletes that had been classified prior to 1 September 2011 undergo re-classification using the new improved testing methods and instruments that have been recommended by vision experts.
The deadline for athletes to undergo re-classification is 31 December 2015 or prior to taking part in a major Championships.
Smyth the 100m and 200m T13 world record holder was originally classified in August 2005 and confirmed a year later.
Therefore he needed to be reclassified ahead of Swansea 2014 using the new methods which includes the consistent use of the LogMAR system for visual acuity measurement, further standardisation of visual field measures and the requirement for more detailed medical diagnostic information to be submitted.
Jason Smyth said: “It was not what I was expecting. I have found it hard to get my head around the fact that a few days before my competition everything has changed; the days I am competing, who I compete against…everything. It also means since the last time I was classified my eyesight has got worse which is never what you want to hear.
“Saying all that it doesn’t change what I want to achieve. I want to run faster, have more success in Paralympic sport and continue to bridge the gap between Paralympic and able bodied sport.”
Craig Spence, IPC Director of Media and Communications, said: “The IPC has made great improvements in the way athletes with a visual impairment are classified in recent years. What we are now doing is ensuring that all athletes are measured against the same more accurate testing methods and using the same instruments.
“This process of reclassification of athletes with a visual impairment was first undertaken with winter sport athletes in parallel to the qualification period for the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games. Around 25 per cent of athletes changed class, either from B2 to B3 or B3 to non-eligible.
“It is likely that ahead of Swansea 2014, some other athletes will change class or be found ineligible.”
Any athlete who changes class or is found non-eligible as a result of reclassification will keep all historical results achieved prior to 1 January 2014 including any titles and records.
As a T13 athlete, Smyth was facing the prospect of only being in a position to defend one of his Paralympic titles at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games as the 200m had been removed from athletics programme. Now, as a T12 athlete Smyth will be in a position to contest two medal events in Rio with both the 100m and 200m on the programme.
As with all athletes under classification review, Smyth’s status as a T12 athlete can be protested by other nations once he competes in Swansea or at any competition over the two year period he is under review.
If this were to happen he would be assessed by a second classification panel. Smyth’s first race as a T12 athlete will now be the semi-finals of the 100m T12 at approximately 11:00 (local time) on Tuesday (19 August).
Smyth is one of an eight strong Irish team in Swansea. Alongside him is fellow double Paralympic and World champion Michael McKillop, in addition to fellow London Paralympic medallist throwers Orla Barry and Catherine O’Neill. They are joined by wheelchair racer at 100m and 400m John McCarthy, teenage long jumper and sprinter Heather Jameson, shot put and javelin thrower Lorraine Regan, and newcomer to this level Andrew Flynn who races in the 5,000m