London 2012 Paralympic swimming: passive drag and the classification system

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Abstract

Background

The key difference between the Olympic and Paralympic Games is the use of classification systems within Paralympic sports to provide a fair competition for athletes with a range of physical disabilities. In 2009, the International Paralympic Committee mandated the development of new, evidence-based classification systems. This study aims to assess objectively the swimming classification system by determining the relationship between passive drag and level of swimming-specific impairment, as defined by the current swimming class.

Methods

Data were collected on participants at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. The passive drag force of 113 swimmers (classes 3–14) was measured using an electro-mechanical towing device and load cell. Swimmers were towed on the surface of a swimming pool at 1.5 m/s while holding their most streamlined position.

Results

Passive drag ranged from 24.9 to 82.8 N; the normalised drag (drag/mass) ranged from 0.45 to 1.86 N/kg. Significant negative associations were found between drag and the swimming class (τ=−0.41, p<0.01) and normalised drag and the swimming class (τ=−0.60, p<0.01). The mean difference in drag between adjacent classes was inconsistent, ranging from 0 N (6 vs 7) to 11.9 N (5 vs 6). Reciprocal Ponderal Index (a measure of slenderness) correlated moderately with normalised drag (rP=−0.40, p<0.01).

Conclusions

Although swimmers with the lowest swimming class experienced the highest passive drag and vice versa, the inconsistent difference in mean passive drag between adjacent classes indicates that the current classification system does not always differentiate clearly between swimming groups.

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