Classifying Paralympic rowers
Behind the scenes, technical and medical classifiers work hard to ensure rowers competing at the Paralympic Rowing Regatta are entered in the correct category. World Rowing spoke to Judy Morrison, a member of FISA’s Adaptive Rowing Commission, who is the Chief Classifier at this regatta.
World Rowing: What does a classifier do?
Judy Morrison: They evaluate the athletes to put them into groups, based on their functional ability for rowing so that they compete against people with similar abilities.
WR: Can you explain the categories in rowing?
JM: We have three sport classes in rowing. AS is arms and shoulders. These rowers use their arms and shoulders but may have a little trunk function. TA is trunk and arms – these rowers use just their trunk and arms and do not have leg function to propel the boat. LTA is legs, trunk and arms class. They are able to use their full body to propel the boat but have a minimal disability.
WR: What challenges do you face in rowing classification?
JM: With rowing there’s only three sport classes, so there’s big ranges within each sport class. If you look at swimming and athletics they have around 15 classes which means there are very small ranges within each class. Finding out a rower needs to change categories is not a good thing, and there are several reasons why a rower may be in the incorrect category. Sometimes it will be a mistake arising from the rower not understanding what the classifiers were asking them or it may be a communication error between classifier and athlete. Sometimes however, the athlete might not be performing to the best of their ability.
WR: What is your role at the Paralympic Rowing Regatta?
JM: As chief classifier I was in charge of organising all the athlete entries – I went through the list to ensure all athletes were classified and had competed in a FISA event prior to here. I worked with LOCOG to ensure all rowers had been reviewed. Once they arrived here, anyone who did not have a confirmed status had to be reclassified. I organised the classification panel, the schedule, ensured the paperwork was completed and now I am in charge of any potential protests, should a rower be in the wrong category. I became a classifier in 2006.
WR: How do you become a classifier?
JM: To become a classifier, you have to take a basic workshop, either at national level or with FISA to give you a basic understanding. You are required to practise classification on your own – classifying at least one athlete per boat class. Once you have at least six months experience, you can apply to take the advanced classifier workshop, and then you need to show you are proficient, and show in person and in writing that you can document what you see correctly.
WR: What sort of classifiers are there?
JM: We have medical and technical classifiers. Medical classifiers are physiotherapists or physicians and they review the medical documents first and then assess the rower’s range of motion and strength and do a few functional tests. They need to ensure the medical documentation matches the function. If it doesn’t match, you start to wonder: “Is there is an issue?” Firstly, is there something medical going on that nobody knows about, or secondly, is the athlete misrepresenting themselves, or is there a communication deficit? Once we have determined they have met the minimal disability to be eligible as an adaptive rower, we then put the rower on the ergometer. The technical classifier will put them through a series of tests to assess their function on a fixed seat versus a sliding seat, and with straps and without straps. We also have the opportunity to do on-water observation when necessary.