In order to make it as easy as possible to understand the athletics of the blind and visually impaired, below are some brief explanations of the different categories, as well as the adaptations that have arisen over the course of time to increasingly bring them as close as possible to non-disabled sports.
The categories are classified based on the athlete’s level of vision, giving us three classes: B1, B2 and B3. This classification is always used in competitions that are strictly for the blind and visually impaired, whereas in championships for people with other disabilities, like the Paralympic Games for example, B1 is T11, B2 is T12 and B3 is T13 for races, whilst F11, F12 and F13 are used for contests and p11, p12 and p13 are used for the pentathlon.
B1: Athletes who are blind or have very limited vision, which requires the help of a guide to perform in any event.
B2: Athletes who have a greater level of vision that allows them to be self-sufficient when performing in any event, but who may still request the use of a guide whenever they deem it appropriate.
B3: Athletes with a greater level of vision than the B2 athletes, but without reaching 100% non-disability.
Differences and similarities
Adaptations for races apply when forming a B1 or B2 series, in which only four athletes participate. This is a result of the fact we need two lanes for B1 athletes since they need the help of a guide, whilst bearing in mind that the track has eight lanes; if the track only has six lanes, the series will consist of three B1 athletes and their respective guides. All B1 athletes have to run with a fully covered mask or goggles so they can’t see anything. Furthermore, most blind athletes run together with their guides using a cord, whilst other, less commonly used methods also exist. The situation for B2 athletes is the same as for B1, regardless of whether the athlete asks for a guide or not, since it is deemed that a lane should be left empty between athletes for safety reasons due to their level of vision. Category B3 is the one with no kind of adaptation, as these series are the same as those for non-disabled athletes. See example of B1 race - See example of B2 race
The only difference between the long jump and the triple jump lies in the takeoff board. Whereas non-disabled athletes have a 30-centimetre takeoff board (of which 20cm are considered valid and the last ten considered void) as wide as the lane, for B1 and B2 athletes this board would be one metre long and as wide as the lane. This board is dusted with white chalk so that during takeoff, the athlete’s footprints will show up on the board, thereby measuring a real jump from the footprint marked on the board. Just like in races, B3 athletes don’t need any kind of adaptation. As for the B1s, they can have two assistants on the track: one to stand in the takeoff zone and guide the athlete throughout the jump and another to indicate the spot where the race begins. See example of B1 jump - See example of B2 jump
Throws: These are the events with the fewest differences as compared with non-disabled sports. The sole difference that can be found with respect to Olympic athletes lies in the fact that both B1 and B2 athletes can have their coaches’ help to get orientated in the throwing zone.
Relays: Today, this event takes place just like those of non-disabled athletes. The only rule that may be different from those of the Olympic Games is the fact that each team must include a B1 athlete and a B2 athlete.
Blind and visually impaired athletes cannot perform in every one of the IAAF’s wide range of events, including hurdles, the 3,000-metre steeplechase and pole vault.
How the competitions have evolved
Athletics for the blind and visually impaired have been developing gradually over time and now resemble athletics for the non-disabled more than ever.
Years ago, B1-category athletes ran the 100-metre dash alone (without a guide) and had all lanes of the track to themselves. They were guided by the voices of two coaches, one standing at the 100-metre mark and the other positioned at the finish line. Furthermore, they didn’t use starting blocks in any race. These days, the 100-metre dash takes place as described above.
As for horizontal jumps, years ago B1 athletes jumped without running, meaning with their feet together. But things have evolved since then and now these jumps are performed normally.
The events that have gone through the most adjustments to get to the Olympic level are the two relays. In the beginning, 20 metres of space were allotted within which the two team members had to remain for an instant (they didn’t carry a baton). In 1995, this area was reduced to 10 metres, becoming the form used for Olympic athletes, but the execution stayed the same. Starting in 1999, instead of having both athletes remain in the zone at a given moment, contact had to be made between the relay runners within the zone. In 2002 the relay began to be performed with a baton, developing into its current form as a normal relay.
All rules are governed by IAAF regulations.