Father of Paralympic Champion Jessica Long Speaks Out on Cheating

Steve Long is the father of Paralympic Champion Jessica Long. Long has held multiple World Records, and has won 12 gold medals across 3 summer Paralympics.

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With the Olympics starting soon, there have been the typical stories in the news about athletes attempting to cheat by using prohibited substances. This is commonly referred to as doping. In the Paralympic world, doping is an extremely rare occurrence, but only because there is a better way to cheat. This method of cheating, as some Paralympic swimmers have discovered, has no penalties for the athlete even when their dubious methods are discovered. What could be better for an unscrupulous athlete?

Some Paralympic swimmers are doing what is called intentional misrepresentation (IM). We usually hear about misrepresentation in legal cases when defendants make statements with the intent to deceive or that are known to be false. However, just as it is possible to make a misrepresentation by words, it is possible to make a misrepresentation by conduct. The swimmers have discovered that they can intentionally conduct themselves in a way that misrepresents the severity of their disability. By doing this, they are able to scam the classifiers and compete in the wrong disability class.

Since there are many types of disabilities and multiple degrees of impairment severity, the Paralympic classification system is the only thing that ensures athletes with disabilities compete against other athletes with similar physical limitations. Competitors are divided into different classes based on their level of impairment. This provides every athlete with a level playing field and guarantees fairness.

This is very similar to how age classifications are applied in little league sports where the 13-14 year olds do not compete with the 15-16 year olds. In many sports, like boxing or wrestling, there are weight classifications to ensure that heavyweights do not compete against bantamweights. In Paralympic swimming, there are ten disability classifications. The range is from S1, the most severely disabled, to S10, for the least impactful disability.

So let’s suppose that an athlete has a disability that would place them in the S9 classification, but was able to game the system and be classed down to the S8 classification. That would give them a huge advantage because they would then be able to swim against athletes with a more severe disability than their own. This advantage would be equivalent to an eighteen year old playing on a baseball team for fifteen year olds or a black belt martial artist going up against a brown belt. Well, this is exactly what is happening in the sport of Paralympic swimming.

Swimmers with disabilities must go through a classification process that determines the degree to which they are limited in their ability to perform each of the strokes. This is a fairly straight forward process when it comes to physical disabilities that are clearly evident, such as amputations. It is a bit more challenging when dealing with orthopedic or neurological impairments such as Muscular Dystrophy or Cerebral Palsy. That is because these disabilities can affect athletes to varying degrees that can change over time. Athletes that are intent on cheating can take advantage of this process… and they do. There are swimmers that exaggerate their disabilities in the hope of being classed down to a class where they can dominate.

I am most aware of this happening in the S8 classification because that is the class that my daughter, Jessica Long, competes in. And as any father would do, I pay close attention to her competition. The S8 class is extremely competitive and Jessica has won and lost to other S8 swimmers. That’s the way it works. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. However, when a true S9 swimmer ends up winning in the S8 class it is disheartening.

Here’s how it’s done. Australia’s Maddison Elliott, perhaps the most egregious example of this manipulation, arrived at the 2015 World Championships in Glasgow classified as a swimmer in the S9 class. In her observation race (for the purpose of classification), she swam the 100 backstroke in 1:25.42. As a result of her limited ability to kick her legs, she was moved to the S8 class. Later at the same meet, she again swam the 100 backstroke (with a much stronger kick) in the significantly faster time of 1:17.93 and won the S8 gold medal. Even the most casual observer could tell that classing her down was wrong.

According to the rules, it is possible to file a protest when something like this occurs, but the National Governing Body (of a country participating in the meet) has to file it and not one country protested Elliott’s swim. Evidently, this is a very political ordeal and it is very frustrating for the swimmers and coaches because they have no recourse on their own. The closest we got to a protest was when U.S. Paralympic coach, Brian Loeffler, accused Elliott of IM via his Twitter account. Loeffler, the 2014 Paralympic National Coach of the Year, was quickly reprimanded and removed from his position on the coaching staff.

Elliott’s swim was in July of last year. On August 3rd, International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Chief Executive Xavier Gonzalez sent an email to the National Paralympic Committee and the National Federation Presidents stating that IM poses a threat to Para-swimming. He wrote, “During the course of this season, we believe we have witnessed, and have heard of, a number of cases of alleged intentional misrepresentation during the classification evaluation process of athletes.” Gonzalez instructed IPC Swimming to examine all results from its recognized competitions in 2015 for evidence of IM. He also requested that IPC Swimming classifiers and other personnel, including the IPC medical and scientific director and members of the IPC Classification Committee, inform him immediately if they suspect any Para-athlete and/or his or her support personnel has engaged in IM. Then he asked the IPC Legal and Ethics Committee to consider the extent to which conduct breaching the IM rules might also breach the IPC Code of Ethics, and whether ethics proceedings can be brought in cases of IM.

At the 17th IPC General Assembly on November 15, IPC President, Sir Philip Craven confirmed that they had witnessed a number of cases of IM during the classification evaluation process of athletes. He emphasized the seriousness of the offence by stating that IM carries the penalty of a two-year suspension. Several days later, on November 19th during a debate in the House of Lords, Baroness Grey-Thompson, a multiple Paralympic medalist, said that doping is not much of an issue in Paralympic sport, but that “the issue in Paralympic sport is around cheating classification.” She proceeded to complain that “there is no penalty. If an athlete gets moved, nothing happens to the country or to the athlete.”

The World Championships were a year ago and even with the Chief Executive and the President of the IPC knowing about the IM infractions, there has been nothing done to resolve the situation.

Recently, British swimmer, Stephanie Millward seems to have adopted the attitude of, “if you can’t beat them, join them.” At the European Championships, Millward walked onto the pool deck for her event with no wheelchair in sight. A month later at a meet in Germany, she was using a wheelchair and needed assistance to get on the blocks. She then swam six seconds slower in the 100 freestyle. The ruse worked. Millward was reclassed from S9 to S8. Based on her best times this year, she now ranks first in the S8 class 100 freestyle and 100 backstroke. In the 100 backstroke, she leads her closest rival by seven seconds and will have the S8 world record by almost two seconds.

The IPC has recently updated its classification rules and regulations, but that was in the works since 2013 and does nothing to reverse the current IM situation. IPC Swimming assembled a team of experts to review the classification system, but this will also do nothing to fix the IM debacle before Rio.

The IPC needs to rectify this situation, and fast. Otherwise, the Paralympic Games in Rio will be a farce. What other sports organization would acknowledge blatant cheating and do nothing? We’ve heard the words, but what about action? We need swift and decisive action from the IPC, or at the very least an investigation before Rio. The athletes should not be rewarded for IM, and a message needs to be sent that cheating will not be tolerated. Let’s hope this will be dealt with before the Paralympic Games.

I feel devastated for the swimmers who have worked extremely hard and will be forced to race athletes of clearly lesser physical impairment. If the IPC doesn’t step in to ensure fair play, the “dopers” of the Paralympics will run away with the records and medals! What message does this send to the public who will now be watching the competition?

The Paralympic Games is finally getting the media coverage it deserves and it will be ruined by the IM scandal. So sad!

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Proper classification warrior
4 years ago

Hi Steve and fellow swimswam community.

Latest update re: Australian “athlete” Amanda Reid/Fowler.

The Australian public finally has their eyes closely on her- she’s doing all the same things in cycling since she jumped from swimming.

The APC is standing by their athlete of course- to do anything else makes them either look like fools or incompetent.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-45553010

Hidde Geurts
4 years ago

To those of you who are in discussion, you might not know me, My name is Hidde Geurts, I am a S14 classified swimmer and I’m from Canada. When I found out that during the Paralympic Games at Sydney that the Spanish basketball team were caught for faking and exaggerating disabilities, cheating criteria based on classification. I felt very disgusted by what is happened at the games. The only real problem is that everyone needs to know that fake paralympic athletes who cheat criteria, exaggerate and faking disabilities don’t deserve to be in the Paralympics and that includes able-bodied athletes.

I hope some of you people might understand that everybody should have their own voice to speak out the… Read more »

Mark
5 years ago

Update
I have been invited to speak too PvdB and others in Bonn on the May 16th about IM and classification so if anyone has some evidence they can supply for me to take would be very much appreciated.
I have some very good videos and paperwork but more the better
[email protected]
We all have opinions that could help if we work togeather

Mary
Reply to  Mark
5 years ago

You may want to check your email. They are bouncing back

Fairness first
6 years ago

A 9yr old Irish lad was disqualified from his 50fr event in a Special Olympics event for swimming 10s faster than he did in his heat / qualifying swim. This got me thinking.
Maddison Elliott swam much faster and far more competently in her final of the 100 back in 2015 after being moved down a class in her heat. Lakeisha Patterson also posted a much faster time and more competent final swim for her 400 free WR Gold medal swim Rio 2016. A similar pattern can be detected with Stephanie Millward who was reclassified from S9 to S8 just in the nick of time for Rio.

The rules (Special Olympics) state that a swimmer will be disqualified if… Read more »

Mark
6 years ago

So my comments have reached British Swimming lol
My daughter has become a victim of their keep your mouth shut policy !!!
Shame on them
Shame on the IPC
And shame on those who cheat the classification system

Mort Landsberg
6 years ago

Jessica: I had the pleasure meeting you in San Francisco hotel lobby. I was concerned seeing a young lady walking so slow after being in the hotel swimming pool for such a length of time.

You were. REY gracious as your personality portrays that after following you since that day.
You posed for a few photos (which I hold dearly).
I belong to a health club n Oakland. A young college student at Mills College also strives to be a great swimmer. Her “BUTTERFLY”. Stroke has given her great rewards. She would love to interview you for the school newspaper. If this is possible, and you recall our meeting it would be my pleasure to have the two… Read more »

Mark
6 years ago

I would love to know where you got your stupid information from. firstly Australian parents, secondly you know the classifier? well arent you lucky. A lot of us know IM and see it happen, but do you see me making comments about your countries swimmers? no. I can guarantee there is NO disability being “faked” and would really love your thoughts sent through. I am over people like yourself who listen to what others say and judging people on what they hear. Live a day in our lives and see what we go through to deal with this disability.

A msg sent by a certain S8 swimmer (who broke the 50fr WR ) mum to me

Vince
Reply to  Mark
6 years ago

The evidence is all there for the mother to see. It is ignorance on her behalf not to recognise that her daughter has been caught up in a cheating scandal. Personally I blame the NGBs, parents etc for cheating where minors are concerned. However, Ms Elliott turns 18 next month and is due for classification in 2017 prior to Worlds. Her behaviour during classification, which we must remember resulted in S9 classification on two seperate occassions in 2015, will be on her head alone. She will legally be an adult and therefor will be judged as one. How exactly then is she going to secure an S8 classification during bench & water testing given that her last 2 classifications actually… Read more »

Sportygeek
Reply to  Mark
6 years ago

Dear mother of a certain S8 swimmer. Your daughter is a T/F38. Another Australian “S8” is an F33. Both swimmers have legitimate disabilities, but one is less impaired than many/most S8s and one significantly more so. There does not seem to be an even playing field.

Parafan+1
Reply to  Sportygeek
6 years ago

Maddison Elliott is a T/F38 and was hugely successful when she competed nationally in that class. 38 is the least impaired class. They have a couple of male S8s and the only other female Aussie S8 who competed in Rio was Lakeisha Patterson – with a list of impairments ranging from early onset Parkinson Disease (at 13) to Left Hemiplegic CP and some in between. She was going to be a hurdler if her swimming career didn’t take off! Another odd one is Amanda Fowler. Nationally classified S8 but required back for S13 review by IPC. Fowler (now Reid) also classified S14, is currently classified C2 for cycling winning silver in Rio. She has also just received a scholarship from… Read more »

Sportygeek
Reply to  Parafan+1
6 years ago

The S8/F33 swimmer I mention does not compete internationally but has a National Confirmed swimming classification (Confirmed in truly bizarre circumstances – increased impairment, but moved to less impaired sports class). They have been trying to get a review for more than a year. I am not going to name names.

Parafan+1
Reply to  Sportygeek
6 years ago

There should only be the one standard, International. Removing National classification standards would be a big help in returning the sport to the truely disabled. Currently it’s nothing more than a National recruitment drive to squeeze athletes into incorrect classes to win medals. My apologies, but Australia is by far the worst offending country and happen to be the country with the biggest involvement in classification – Dr Sean Tweedy, Dr Danielle Formosa & Professor Brendan Burkett.

Interestingly Ms Elliott is no longer recorded on the Australian Athletics database and Ms Fowler/Reid has never been recorded as S8 on the National Swimming Classification database. Yes the Aussies are playing fair and all is above board – not!

I note… Read more »

Fiona
6 years ago

Steve, can we have a follow up article now that the dust has settled on Rio 2016? Intentional Misrepresentation a a huge problem in swimming. I didn’t like what I saw in Rio, not one bit, but if the IPC won’t fix it then what can be done? Thoughts any one?

About Lauren Neidigh

Lauren Neidigh

Lauren Neidigh is a former NCAA swimmer at the University of Arizona (2013-2015) and the University of Florida (2011-2013). While her college swimming career left a bit to be desired, her Snapchat chin selfies and hot takes on Twitter do not disappoint. She's also a high school graduate of The …

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