“Scientists have to focus not just on able-bodied sportsmen, but on all sportsmen, and when they do this we will make major steps forward.”
Around 200 sports scientists and researchers, classifiers, coaches, trainers and sport administrators, are in the IPC’s home city of Bonn, Germany for the three day long conference which this year has the theme ‘A multi-disciplinary approach to Paralympic success’.
“One of the greatest challenges in classification is to facilitate collaboration from all those people who have to be there to solve the issues, such as athletes, classifiers and researchers,” said Vanlandewyck, who is also Chairperson of the IPC’s Sport Science Committee.
“You need to understand the sport. You need to understand the impairment level and the interaction between both, and you need to understand the concept that we are working with, which is this triangle of impairment, performance and the impact of training.”
Classification is a structure for competition which defines which impairment groups can compete in the various sports.
Athletes are classified by the degree of activity limitation related to their impairment and/or specific to the tasks in the sport.
Another challenge according to Vanlandewyck is the need to keep classification simple enough for people watching, but detailed enough so the sport stays dynamic and competitors within a class are similar in terms of the degree of activity limitation.
“You can make classification very simple. In Wheelchair Basketball for instance we could put all athletes in the same chair, give them a high back-rest, strap the trunk to the back-rest and the only thing they can do is move their head and their arms,” he explained.
“This would result in not too much difference between a high level paraplegic and an amputee. But it would ruin the sport.
“Athletes would never accept it because it would limit the person in demonstrating his whole potential in what they can do. It’s not the way to go.”
Vanlandewyck told the audience of the importance of sports specific classification and the need to classify according to events.
“In Athletics some classes, such as T53 and T54, are combined in the 1500m, but are split into two classes in the 800m because the impact of the impairment on performance is different,” Vanlandewyck said.
In the future Vanlandewyck hopes more research into issues that have not been tackled yet will move classification forward.
“Classification is moving forward slowly because evidence is needed and there are a lot of questions in classification that have never been tackled. We don’t yet fully understand this triangular relationship between impairment, performance and the impact of training.
“There is such a big gap between what we should know and what we know. There is an enormous progression after expert meetings, but a lot of data collection and analysis needs to be done.
“Scientists have to focus not just on able-bodied sportsmen, but on all sportsmen, and when they do this we will make major steps forward,” Vanlandewyck said.
On Saturday the final keynote speaker will be Mike McNamee, Professor of Sport Ethics, at Swansea University. He will speak about the challenges and opportunities for the Paralympic Movement; ethical and conceptual issues.
In addition to the keynote speakers, VISTA also has a number of invited symposia and free communications.
The VISTA conference is sponsored by the EU’s Regional Development Fund, North Rhine-Westphalia’s Minister for Federal Affairs, Europe and the Media, Nachhaltigkeit. Sustainability. Durabilité in Bonn and the Haus der Geschichte Museum.
For more information on the conference, please visit www.paralympic.org/events.