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Science and the Paralympic movement
  1. Walter R Thompson1,
  2. Yves C Vanlandewijck2
  1. 1College of Education, Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
  2. 2Department of Rehabilitation Sciences, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
  1. Correspondence to Dr Walter R Thompson, College of Education, Georgia State University, 30 Pryor Street, Suite 1024, Atlanta, GA 30303, USA; wrthompson{at}

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Between May 1 and 4 of this year, scientists, athletes, coaches and sport administrators came together in Bonn, Germany for the VISTA2013 Conference. VISTA is held every 2 years in an attempt to have substantial conversations about a topic chosen by the organisers, the Sports Science Committee of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC). Previous VISTA Conferences have included topics on athlete classification, sport performance, women in sport, the athlete with high-support needs, looked at from different disciplinary perspectives. VISTA2013 had the theme ‘Equipment & Technology in Paralympic Sports’. It was a particularly important topic because of the recently accelerated advancements such as in carbon fibre running prostheses (blades) and racing wheelchairs.

Keynote speakers for VISTA2013 included Brendan Burkett who is a member of the IPC Sports Science Committee and professor in Biomechanics at the Faculty of Science, Health, Education and Engineering of the University of the Sunshine Coast, Brisbane, Australia who spoke on Paralympic sporting equipment: Performance enhancement or necessary for performance?, Chris Rushman who is a senior technical specialist for motivation UK who talked about Products for grassroots sports development: A case study of the Motivation court sport wheelchair for low-income countries, Simone Oehler who is head of the Testing Department at Ottobock, Duderstadt, Germany who spoke about Equipment and Technology: From products for grass roots development to high-tech applications: Products for high-tech applications—from product development to individual athlete support—and back and Ivo Van Hilvoorde who is an assistant professor at the Faculty of Human Movement Sciences, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands, and a lecturer at the Windeseheim School of Human Movement & Sport in Zwolle, the Netherlands who talked about Using technology and equipment fairly: The balance between access, competitive edge and the philosophy of sport. The next VISTA Conference will be held in 2015. For more information about VISTA, visit the website of the International Paralympic Committee, VISTA2013 provided the springboard for deeper intellectual discussions about research and elite athletes.

The study of Paralympic athletes has a number of methodological challenges. Many research studies lack randomisation and few have control groups against which comparisons can be made. There are not enough scientists who understand the athlete with an impairment leading to fragmentation in the scientific literature. The research agenda is being driven by a small group of interdisciplinary scientists who seem to be the only ones that routinely have access to elite athletes, leading to gaps in knowledge. The athlete-equipment interface is extremely complex and demands a multidisciplinary approach to study sport efficacy. Finally, many of these scientists work within an environment that supports athletes from their own countries. A scientist at VISTA2013 remarked that he was willing to share 75% of his knowledge with the scientific world, but the remaining 25% will be used for the advancement of his country's athletes. There is no criticism of the patriotism of this scientist. It is just a fact that much of what we do not know about elite athletes is often kept secret until after the next big event (typically Olympic and Paralympic Games or World Championships). IPC encourages scientists around the world to develop meaningful collaborations to stimulate research on athletes with a physical, sensorial or intellectual impairment and to share that new knowledge.

Beginning with the 1996 Atlanta Paralympic Games, there has been a highly organised effort on behalf of IPC to enhance the research foundation for elite athletes by allowing scientific studies to be conducted during the Paralympic Games and IPC-sanctioned events. These research studies have significantly enhanced our knowledge of elite athletes, the organisation of mega-events, injury and illness surveillance and how legacy can be an important outcome. In recent years, social scientists have studied the effect the Games have on spectators. The challenge for the IPC Sports Science Committee is to select research studies that are relevant to the athlete, that do not interfere with the Games operations or with athlete preparation, that contribute in significant and measurable ways to the Paralympic Movement, and that cannot be better organised at smaller sport-discipline specific competitions. Several of the studies in this journal edition and in the last edition are clearly those that have met these critical criteria. For more information about research to be conducted during IPC-sanctioned events or during the Paralympic Games, visit A letter of intent must be submitted to IPC within 15 months of the IPC-sanctioned event or Games. If approved, an acceptable research application must then be submitted to the IPC Sports Science Committee 1 year in advance of the competition.



  • Competing interests WRT and YCV are members of the IPC Sports Science Committee and editors ofThe Paralympic Athlete(

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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