The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) requires that sports included in the Paralympic games must have an evidence-based classification system. Paracanoe is a relatively new sport in which athletes with physical impairments compete in either Para-kayak or Para Va’a. Para-kayak is contested in a kayak propelled with a double-blade paddle and Para Va’a is contested in a Polynesian outrigger canoe and is propelled using a single-blade paddle.
In 2012 Dr. Anna Bjerkefors from the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences (GIH) was contacted by the International Canoe Federation (ICF) to lead the scientific work in creating an evidence-based classification system for Para-kayak and Para Va’a. Together with PhD student Johanna Rosén, Professor Toni Arndt and laboratory engineer Olga Tarassova all three from GIH, 3D motion data and paddling power output has been collected using Qualisys system on 33 able-bodied kayak and Va’a athletes and 130 Paracanoe athletes from 20 different countries.
The Qualisys equipment own by GIH has been shipped to five different locations where “pop-up” laboratories have been created in order to collect data from top level athletes at five Canoe Sprint and Paracanoe World Championships.
Data collections have also been conducted at GIH in Stockholm in collaboration with Professor Victoria Goosey-Tolfrey from Peter Harrison Centre for Disability Sport at Loughborough University (Great Britain), at George Fox University (USA) in collaboration with Professor Jeff Houck and Robin Dorociak, and at National Center of Sport training in Moscow, Russia.
Information of how athletes with different impairments paddle compared to able-bodied athletes and compared to other impairment types was then used as a basis for creating evidence-based classification systems for Para-kayak and Para Va’a in close collaboration with international classifiers from the ICF.
“It feels great to be able to help more people have the opportunity to compete in the Paralympic Games in two new disciplines”
Johanna Rosén (pictured left)
PhD student, Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences
Johanna Rosén and Dr. Anna Bjerkefors were among the representatives from GIH to work towards the classification. Johanna Rosén is a member of the ICF Paracanoe sub-committee and writes her doctoral thesis on Paracanoe. Dr. Anna Bjerkefors is the research leader of the Paracanoe project and also a member of the ICF Paracanoe sub-committee
A new sport for the Paralympic games
The new classification systems were approved by the IPC resulting in Para-kayak being accepted for the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro 2016 and Para Va’a accepted for the Paralympic games in Tokyo 2020.