Aussie Para Swimmer Ashleigh Cockburn: IM ‘Not Only Accepted But Expected’

Former member of the Australian Dolphins para swimming team Ashleigh Cockburn penned a first-person account of her experience with intentional misrepresentation during her career earlier this week, as the nation is coming under fire for the handling of Shayna Jack‘s positive drug tests.

Para swimmers are classified into various categories to even the playing field within each race. Each swimmer is classified as having either a physical, visual, or intellectual impairment, and undergoes physical, technical in-sport, and technical in-competition assessments to reach a proper classification.

Para swimming has been marred in recent years by cases of intentional misrepresentation, which occurs when an athlete makes their impairment seem more severe in order to be put into the wrong disability class.

“As a former member of the team, I witnessed intentional misrepresentation become not only accepted but expected,” Cockburn writes. “Throughout my career, I heard athletes casually mention how they had been thrown in the snow prior to classification so their muscles and joints were far stiffer than usual, or how they’d been instructed by someone higher up to ‘throw on a limp’ during testing.”

She goes on to say that she also witnessed teammates binding their limbs or pushing themselves to physical exhaustion just ahead of classification tests to “restrict flexibility, strength and fine motor skills” or “reduce stamina and power.”

“There were also athletes who had previously competed as able-bodied who borrowed a disability for classification.”

Cockburn said that coaches commonly train their swimmers to move in a way that mimics the symptoms of Cerebral Palsy, specifically.

Another unnamed athlete, said to be a current Australian Paralympic swimmer said international misrepresentation is “very common,” and that “no one is not aware.” A third athlete said she felt “helpless” in the situation, and that it is “impossible to generate change or even speak out against the systemised deceit for fear of legal repercussions and the impact it would have on her own career.”

Athletes who misrepresent themselves can break records and claim taxpayer-funded grants, scholarships and sponsorships, Cockburn explained.

The International Paralympic Committee told Cockburn that intentional misrepresentation is “a concern but not an issue.”

Refuting Cockburn’s claims,  a spokesman for the Australian Paralympic committee said: “Any suggestion that the APC has condoned cheating; has any knowledge of misconduct related to classification; or is involved in such misconduct, is refuted in the strongest possible terms.”

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Christian
2 years ago

Once again brilliantly stated CONFUSED. Leonhardt has now broken 3 x S14 Short course world records, what a joke. Furthermore, what was she doing in the S10 Category in the first place??? To be classified as NE and then then thrown out of the S10 category, states the medical evidence was extremely poor. Furthermore, why did swimming Australia not support Leonardt by appealing the decision. In the past they have done this on several occasions and have been successful. Maybe swimming Australia knew the real truth about Leonhardt’s alleged disabilities and did NOT want to support the swimmer, by appealing the International Classifiers decision. This whole classification mess needs urgent attention and people need to be sacked for bringing the… Read more »

Confused
Reply to  Christian
2 years ago

The programme appears to be managed, I’d use that term loosely, by Australian Olympic Swimmer Adam Pine – good luck to you trying to get an Olympian sacked by his own NSO.

Pick a Lane
2 years ago

Paige Leonhardt being announced as provisionally breaking s14 World Records at Queensland Short Course Championships this morning. What a joke, 1.33 seconds OVER her PB. Take a good hard look at yourself Australia!

Christian
Reply to  Pick a Lane
2 years ago

PICK A LANE, wow, how the hell did this cheat go from an S14 to an S10??? Now she is breaking S14 world records, what a joke, this is a prime example of classification cheating. This person needs to be reported to Australia’s new Sports and Integrity Commission.

Mary
2 years ago

well done to this young lass for speaking up about what is has and is going on within the Australian team. Wondering if someone with some power is going to do something about this now that a swimmer has spoken up about the ongoing issues. Team Leaders – Ellie Cole wont speak up until she retires possibly next year, Monique Murphy, well she is training partners with Lakeesha Patterson so would be fully aware of the goings on here. Not sure on the 2 male leaders, but Id say they have all been warned to keep quiet. Lets see what happens at World Championships next month.

Confused
Reply to  Mary
2 years ago

Interestingly; Matthew Levy is a member of World Para Swimming Athletes Advisory Group, Blake Cochrane is a member of the Australian Paralympics Athlete Commission, Matthew Levy & Ellie Cole are members of its Leadership Group, representing the Sport of Swimming & its athletes, Monique Murphy is a member of Australian Institute of Sport Lifeline Community Custodian program. It would appear then that Australian Para Swimming is not taken seriously by anyone – including the very people who should be taking a stance, its athlete team leaders. Somewhat hypocritical, unprincipled and patronising given Australia’s ‘commitment’ to clean sport. The cheating will continue unchallenged in London and Tokyo. You are kidding yourself if you think otherwise.

Confused
3 years ago

I have just listened to John Bertrand Swimming Australia President explain, rather late in the game, the confusion and noise surrounding Shayna Jack’s +ve tests, Horton, ASADA, SALs legal position etc.. His main point really was that SAL endeavour to protect the rights of its athletes. Does this extend to the rights of SALs disabled athletes who appear to be caught up in a nightmare of their own? Why did a young swimmer leave the sport, disillusioned? Bertrand sounded genuine & calm so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and believe that he would want to take a look at his Para Swimming program to see if there is some substance to all the noise and finger pointing.… Read more »

Confused
3 years ago

Well done Ashleigh Cockburn, brave. How much longer are they all going to deny that they are blatantly cheating the classification system? And by they I mean Swimming Australia, Paralympics Australia and the IPC. Lakeisha Patterson? Classified in 2014 with Early Onset Parkinson’s Disease, Come mid 2018 she readily admits that her Early Onset Parkinson’s Disease was never even officially diagnosed. So, my question is how the heck did she get classified in 2014 with no official diagnosis to support her claimed impairment of Parkinson’s Disease, at 13? As for her ‘Cerebral Palsy’? Please, how dumb do they think everyone is and she’s not the only one taking advantage sadly. It would be cool to see a Horton type protest… Read more »

Christian
Reply to  Confused
2 years ago

Once again well articulated confused.

13 % Chinese person
3 years ago

Snow? There is little snow in Aust except in the mountains june – august . Or the highlands of Tasmania but its unpredictable . I admit Canberra is cold if she is claiming the Ais but if there is a very rare snowfall , everyone & their dog is out playing in it.

It isn’t just in sport where ppl try to be categorised down in abilities , its in applying for disability grants , payments & pensions . The more ppl try & do & if successful , the less $ they get . It is a contentious issue all around
.
incidentally I knew parents who received a child disability allowance because their 2 kids… Read more »

skip
Reply to  13 % Chinese person
3 years ago

you know a lot of classification happens when the team is travelling – outside Australia, no snow: non issue

13 % Chinese person
Reply to  skip
3 years ago

But immersing self or limb in ice , snow or very cold water stimulates blood flow & after regaining normal temps improves all apects . The only reason we don’t do it for disabled therapy is because of fear of pneumonia .& anxieties.

Taa
3 years ago

When is an Australian swimmer going to publicly speak out against Lakeisha? I’d like to see that.

Pick a Lane
Reply to  Taa
3 years ago

Paige Leonhardt assessed as NE in Melbourne straight back in the water swimming as s14. System is a joke.

Fred
Reply to  Taa
3 years ago

Lakeisha Patterson speaks loudly enough for herself. She is walking, talking, swimming IM personified.

Christian
Reply to  Fred
2 years ago

Don’t forget Pattersons friend and Queensland teammate, Paige Leonhardt. Remember she started as an S14, then classification cheated to be an S10 for the 2016 RIO Para-games. She was suddenly classified out of the S10 category in Feb this year with an NE against her name. Now she is trying to get her S14 international classification at the INAS global games in Brisbane Australia in October. What a bloody Joke!!!

Pick a Lane
Reply to  Christian
2 years ago

Bigger joke is Victoria Jessamine, graduates grade 12 last year with a ATAR of 95.05 and topped the state in a business subject. Yeah right she has an IQ under 75! Roughly speaking an ATAR of 95 puts you in the top 5% off all graduates. Absolutely not possible for any student with an intellectual impairment. When will the cheating end Australia?

Confused
Reply to  Pick a Lane
2 years ago

One has to wonder where these Australian swimmers are getting their supporting documentation from. For example, Lakeisha Patterson’s medical documentation supporting her Parkinson’s Disease diagnosis for her earlier International S7 and S8 classifications. One also has to wonder who the gatekeepers are and ask whether or not they are competent and even qualified for that position. By the way, Leonhardt besting S14 World Records whilst also dealing with CP and Drusen is quite a ‘remarkable’ achievement.

Mary
Reply to  Confused
2 years ago

Confused, the story that is making the rounds is that Patterson has reportedly made it known via a recent story that she has never had the Parkinsons Disease medically diagnosed. I was a bit skeptical about this until someone forwarded me on the story itself where she does say this. Im unsure as to why WPC have not looked into this statement and her past claim of the diagnosis.

Confused
Reply to  Mary
2 years ago

Exactly. Why then is that not considered Intentional Misrepresentation? Seems to me to be a very ‘intentional’ course of action – the aim of which was to deceive. However, WPS and its classifiers need a mention here. Early Onset Parkinson’s Disease at 13years of age? Incompetent madness.

Christian
Reply to  Confused
2 years ago

Once again brilliantly stated MARY and CONFUSED!!!

Christian
Reply to  Confused
2 years ago

Once again CONFUSED, I am totally gobsmacked, Para-swimming is sadly quite a joke, it desperately needs to get back its moral compass.

Christian
Reply to  Pick a Lane
2 years ago

Wow, PICK A LANE, I was totally unaware of this Para-swimmer, Victoria Jessamine is she Australian???

Pick a Lane
Reply to  Christian
2 years ago

Yes, out of New South Wales.

Pick a Lane
Reply to  Pick a Lane
2 years ago

I asked Sports Inclusion Australia 5 days ago to clarify which swimmers selected on the Global Games team were selected as Intellectually Disabled and which were selected as Autistic? So far, zero response!

Anyone know what the rule is for athletes classified as NE and the time period before they can apply to be reclassified in different category?

Confused
Reply to  Pick a Lane
2 years ago

NE simply means that they are Not Eligible, that they did not meet the minimum impairment points criteria during technical and / or medical testing. Leonhardt is free to chase classification for one of the other categories – Visual (she claims she’ll lose her sight with Drussen) and Intellectual. Of course if Para Sport was managed ethically and honestly, Leonhardt would be IM and currently benched for a 2-4yr period for lying and intentionally misrepresenting herself during her numerous PI classifications.

Confused
Reply to  Taa
3 years ago

I looked on SAL media. Team Leaders are Ellie Cole, Monique Murphy, Matt Levy and Blake Cochrane. It would appear that they should also be speaking out about coaches and managers.

Christian
Reply to  Confused
2 years ago

Sadly, CONFUSED, the above mentioned at this stage, do not have the same elk, moral fiber and courage as Australian Mack Horton when it comes to standing up against IM cheating within the sport. Hopefully that might change soon!!!

Confused
Reply to  Christian
2 years ago

My guess is that they all receive top dollar funding and that is their motivator. The lack of morals and honesty shown by team mates of theirs could easily jeopardise their bank balances and their appeal to sponsors should it ever be exposed. Instead of speaking up, they have chosen to join the morally bankrupt club. Spineless Hypocrisy.

Christian
Reply to  Confused
2 years ago

Well said CONFUSED.

bear drinks beer
3 years ago

Who says state level cheating only happens in some certain country?😀

About Torrey Hart

Torrey Hart

Torrey is from Oakland, CA, and majored in media studies and American studies at Claremont McKenna College, where she swam distance freestyle for the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps team. Outside of SwimSwam, she has bylines at Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, SB Nation, and The Student Life newspaper.

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