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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Stay Human
5 years ago

Interesting article, thanks. I have wondered about this myself, but it was just a hunch. First of all, they obviously need to come up with a better acronym than IM!

Secondly, similar to out of competition testing for doping, they need to have undercover swimming officials at para swimmers practices and minor meets, to help check for cheating.

parafan
Reply to  Stay Human
5 years ago

After the bench and pool test athletes are observed swimming during their first event of the classification meet. Often this observation takes place with the classifiers are far removed from the pool as physically possible and still be in the same room. They are not making use of current technology and using underwater cameras NEITHER are the classification procedures recorded. Add the fact that swimmers can swim much slower than any previously recorded competition times and these times are accepted and the classification ratified, NO WONDER people see the sport as being full of cheats. However, lets be mindful of the fact that this is the IPC and classifiers at fault and generally not the swimmers. We know of swimmers… Read more »

chebstroke
5 years ago

Are we assuming S11-S14 are incapable of IM?

Coach John
Reply to  chebstroke
5 years ago

S11-S12-S13 is a visual impairment and S14 is mental deficit. I think it’s much less prevalent or nonexistent in those categories (S14 for sure)

chebstroke
Reply to  Coach John
5 years ago

Please explain why that would make it less prevalent

The Screaming Viking!
Reply to  chebstroke
5 years ago

Because in vision impaired classifications swimmers must black out their goggles since some athletes can see more light than others.

chebstroke
Reply to  The Screaming Viking!
5 years ago

In S12 & S13?

Lewis
Reply to  chebstroke
5 years ago

These categories have medical professionals who examine and test the athletes, there have been some questions over some athletes in the past plus the quality and consistency of the testing. If all athletes had the same test and by independent professionals then that would seem sensible however there is no transparency on results and when / where the tests take place. There is a review taking place at the moment into VI with results post Rio and there does not seem to be any suspicion about swimmers cheating in these categories but that is not to say it is not happening

frustrated
Reply to  Lewis
5 years ago

Look no further than yet another Australian swimmer Amanda Fowler.

Competed in the pool as S14 in London 2012. Classified as S13 complete with stick in 2015, then S8 with cerebral palsy also 2015, but with no stick. The IPC called her back for review of S13 classification which is still outstanding. Amanda Fowler / Reid has now been selected to represent Australia in Track Cycling as C2 which is moderate Cerebral Palsy, not vision impaired and again without the stick. It’s absolutely incredible.

Sportygeek
Reply to  frustrated
5 years ago

She apparently has a visual field loss (as does her brother, who competed in athletics as a T/F12) – whether she meets minimum disability as a VI athlete or not is another question.

Have people seen her APC profile from 2012, tho? Not exactly consistent with being an S8 (or a C2) with CP.

http://london2012.paralympic.org.au/amanda-fowler

“When she was barely more than a toddler, Amanda was already extremely proficient at a sport of a different kind – short track ice speed skating. Phenomenally, Amanda fast progressed to become the first person ever to hold the Australian title, New Zealand title and all state titles in the one year for her age.”… Read more »

Mary
Reply to  Sportygeek
5 years ago

Claims she has Cererbral Palsy and walks around with a leg splint on and turned in foot plus arm splint with floppy arm and quite profound limp. If you watch footage of her at World Championships Canada 2013 you can quite clearly see there is no limp nor any arm or leg issues.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BwK0Db9o9oM

My question though is this, Steve Long what are your thoughts if some or all of these swimmers provide medical evidence to back their condition?

frustrated
Reply to  Mary
5 years ago

If some, not all, of these athletes provide medical evidence supporting their claim that they have CP then I would be questioning the integrity of the National Governing bodies and the IPC.

Mary
Reply to  frustrated
5 years ago

Would you like to enlighten us a little bit more on your thoughts Frustrated? Please explain your reasoning behind this statement

Disheartened
Reply to  Mary
5 years ago

I think Frustrated is alluding to the fact that all para athletes are supposedly required to present detailed medical documents to the IPC via their national organisation prior to international classification. The question should probably be more along the lines of do the national bodies or IPC check the authenticity of these documents? Very clearly the answer is NO.

Sportygeek
Reply to  Mary
5 years ago

I saw her compete (as a T/F13) at Australian Junior Athletics Championships in March 2015. No sign of physical impairment, three medals (Women’s Para U20 400m, 800m and 1500m). AJAC 2015 was a month before that year’s Australian Swimming Championships, and swimming was her main focus at the time. I have no idea how much athletics training she did, but suspect not much.

http://athletics.com.au/Portals/56/Competition/Documents/2015/2015%20Australian%20Junior%20Athletics%20Championship%20Results%209-4-15.pdf

Proper classification warrior
Reply to  frustrated
2 years ago

Have a look at the recent update in the news re: Amanda Reid/Fowler!
Seems she has become a household name for IM. And rightly so.

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

Christian
Reply to  Proper classification warrior
2 years ago

Wow about time she was exposed as a cheat and fraud.

S14 parent
Reply to  Coach John
5 years ago

Coach John you are way off base with your S14 comment. This group was eliminated in the early 2000’s for cheating. While a standardized test has been developed, I’m convinced that some are coached to do poorly. This classification also has basis on IQ testing. Some one with an IQ of 75 functions way better than one in the 40’s or 50’s. There is also a wide range of cognitive issues and processing issues. The biggest issue is gaining acceptance within the Paralympics. My swimmer had an MQS and 2 METs and was not selected. Imagine how devastated we are. How do you think we feel that someone got the slot she earned?

Buncobabe
Reply to  Coach John
5 years ago

Coach John. W
Take a look at S14 women’s times, some are as fast as able bodied Olympic qualifying times.
What’s disabled about that? Huge disparity between top 3 and those ranked below which given the selection formula it is impossible to advance to worlds or Paralympics even with an MQS time.

Coach Hans
Reply to  Buncobabe
5 years ago

There is a huge disparity in the S14 class.
In truth It should probably be 3 classes.

3.14159265358979
5 years ago

As a fellow elite para swimmer, I have been appalled by the IPC’s lack of enforcement of IM. Thank you Mr.Long for having the guts to say what many Athletes, Coaches and Offficials in Para-Swimming have wanted to say but felt like they couldn’t. The USOC, IPC, Australian and British swimming will probably have a cow over this and try to tarnish your name but thank you for telling the truth.

TAA
5 years ago

They need to form a committee to investigate and adjust for these occurrences. Millward competed at four different meets in the previous six months prior to Berlin and her times were there for all to see. The use of the wheelchair to deceive the classifiers is grounds for suspension. It seems that it would be quite easy to have a rule on the books that would make it extremely hard for an athlete over 30 to request that their class be adjusted downward due to declining performance….In the real world its called getting older.. duh!! I guess we can expect her to compete until the age of 60 and request a lower class each time her performance get slower.

You… Read more »

incredulous
Reply to  TAA
5 years ago

Lot more than just one video showing Lakeisha Patterson with zero evidence of spasticity, zero evidence of any balance impairment, zero evidence of muscle atrophy or asymmetry, zero evidence of Parkinsons signs, but just ridiculous curled up fingers and a very variable gait that a first year medical student would pick as fraudulent.

Steve Long
Reply to  TAA
5 years ago

That is the key question, “Why didn’t she protest?” An even better question is, “Why didn’t anyone protest?”

When there were no protests of Elliott’s swim at Worlds, I sent a letter to Queenie Nichols and others at U.S. Paralympics asking that question. Julie O’Neill responded by writing, “With regard to Australian athlete Maddison Elliott, upon review of the information available publicly to us and other NPCs, it appears that the IPC followed the classification processes and procedures as per the rules in Glasgow.”

I’m sure that’s a true statement about following the processes and procedures, but I think she missed my point. Intentional Misrepresentation has nothing to do with processes and procedures. It has to do with deception. If… Read more »

Cheryl
Reply to  Steve Long
5 years ago

The IPC certainly did not follow their classification processes and rules in Glasgow.

1) Only under huge pressure was Maddison Elliott added into the S9 200 IM towards the end of the competition to demonstrate her breastroke. She did not contest the S8 200IM earlier in the competition. True to form in her S9 200 IM she swam way over her personal best.

2) Borderline swimmers compete up. If there is truth in Craig Spence’ comments then this is further proof that they did not follow their own rules.

The course that Maddison Elliotts classification followed in Glasgow was an obvious one. Anyone who had the responsibility for the well being of a group of athletes affected by this… Read more »

Trying to understand what action you would take
Reply to  Steve Long
5 years ago

So Steve, do you want the USA to respond to breaking ghe rules by breaking the rules? That seems to be what is between the lines of your statement regarding the US officials responding according to the rules and procedures. I’m trying to understand what action you would take that differs from following procedures and rules. Please enlighten us/me.

The politics of opinion.

Great point!! It seems that your accusation of “inaction” in London/Glasgow on the part of the US contingent more clearly looks like an incredible case of “integrity” in adhering to the rules. I applaud the US staff for not caving in to you and those like you. Further, if all of this is so “political”, don’t you think your writing of this and all of your comments may hurt the US Athletes when they actually have to appeal a decision in this or another sport in Rio? I hope that the need you posses to be heard does not cost the US Athletes a medal opportunity in Rio. In my country your opinion would have never been published for this… Read more »

POD858
Reply to  The politics of opinion.
5 years ago

When the opportunity to cheat is presented, used, and successful…it is very likely every country will utilize it. Should a blind eye be turned simply because “everyone is doing it”? It needs to be brought up and rectified regardless of whom, or what country takes a hit! And I’m glad I live in a country where free speech of the public and press is still allowed…

Steve Long

Protesting IS in the rules!

USA (or any country) should have responded by protesting. Even though the steps (all classification tests completed, correct number of classifiers present, etc.) may have been followed, it is still possible to intentionally misrepresent a disability.

The protest and appeals rules are what keep classifications honest and ensure fairness.

Why not protest if it appears that a swimmer is cheating?

FairnessInParasport
Reply to  TAA
5 years ago

Silverman was reclassified at this meet and didn’t even swim his key event the 400 free for observation. I find it interesting this isn’t mentioned.

TAA
Reply to  FairnessInParasport
5 years ago

His first event was the 200 free. Another middle distance freestyle event good enough? I think it remains to be seen exactly where he is at time wise. His Pac 12 swims back in march weren’t very good if I recall right

aaa
Reply to  TAA
5 years ago

Classification requires an S event and an SB event. Classification is supposed to be done based on ‘first appearance’. So his class could be determined by, say, a 100backstroke. Whatever showed up first on the event program.

Swimming speed is not a factor in classification. For an athlete with CP the team will be looking for disco-ordination and evidence of abnormal tone.

It’s also worth noting that trying to reverse engineer classification from presentation on the deck is a fools errand. If you weren’t there, if you didn’t see the bench, if you don’t have access to medical records then you don’t know.

ParaFan
5 years ago

This IM disaster doesn’t just effect the swimmers in the class that is obviously directly effected, but swimmers in all classes during team selection. As most countries are only able to send a certain number of swimmers to Rio, someone ranking #1 in the world will get a spot on the team, which if they were in the correct class perhaps another deserving swimmer would be getting a spot because their world ranking would be similar. It’s a trickle down effect. The mental aspect of competing against a known cheater has got to be hard as well. When will the IPC and National Governing Bodies stand up and start taking action about cheaters!!!!!! Para swimmers have enough to deal with… Read more »

Flyback
Reply to  ParaFan
5 years ago

You have made an excellent point. I hadn’t thought of the knock on effects this has on other swimmers in different classes from the same country and, as you mention the mental aspect of competing against a known cheat must be dreadful.

This prolific cheating then also affects swimmers from the same country vying for team selection. Well, that says a lot for the integrity and ethics of those in administration. Exactly how many careers have been ruined I wonder. It’s not just the ones missing out on gold and titles in Rio. Steve Long is right, the IPC have to address this.

RGSWIMS
5 years ago

Very thankful for Mr. Long speaking out. Someone has gotta speak out against this epidemic. It saddens me to know that so many people cheat the system and not only get away with it but they also get rewarded for it. What’s even worse is that besides the 2 Australians and Millward is that it happens in the USA… Take Elizabeth Marks for example, who moved down 2 classes in less than a year and let’s not let Michelle Konkoly fly under the radar. Michelle, at competitions uses a brace and needs help on the block, though at home she can jump on the block herself in news interviews and even post extreme dry land training videos online that showcase… Read more »

Just another swimmer
Reply to  RGSWIMS
5 years ago

Elizabeth Marks was on life support shortly before moving down two classes. Personally, I have never been on life support, but I hear relying on machines to merely stay alive doesn’t exactly improve your athletic abilities…I understand that IM most likely exists in the US, but I think you need to re-evaluate your claims, there.

Taa
Reply to  Just another swimmer
5 years ago

If u look at her times before and after her Ecmo incident you will see she is slightly faster afterward. 1:29 in March 2014, 1:29 in March 2015 and 1:27 in November 2015, this last swim was 30 days before she got classed down 2 classes and was a second under the sb7 world record. so in my mind if she was an s10 beforehand and her swimming ability afterward is the same I don’t understand why she moved down two classes. I am not accusing her of iM but just think people should know the facts. Also I think 15 months went by before she was reclassed so not a short period of time.

Taa
Reply to  Just another swimmer
5 years ago

I correct myself. She was only 1:34 in March 2014 and also I add she went 1:27 In Feb 2015.

revlouie
5 years ago

Good job, Steve. This just proves that sin and evil permeate all aspects of life. Praying for a quick and just resolution to this and wishing Jessica the best.

BBB
5 years ago

Cheating, by faking or exaggerating a disability, will be the reason the Rio Paralympic Games will be received by the world audience with pity and disinterest. Canada has Nathan Stein, Australia has Madison Elliott, Great Britain has Stephanie Millward and the Ukraine now has a growing roster of former able-bodied nation team member and junior nation champions on their men’s S10 squad.
The Ukrainian athletes have public and documented time faster than all of the S10 world records swum by these now “disabled” athletes just 1 or 2 years ago. How can these athletes swim on their countries national team in 2014 and now be classified as disabled?! New onset diseases? Accidents? Dubrov walked to the medal stand with… Read more »

Curious
Reply to  BBB
5 years ago

What is the issue with Griswold classification? Is he up for review?

Anonymous
Reply to  BBB
5 years ago

Dear BBB,

You are so right in your analysis. The remark about the Ukrainian S10 swimmers has already been made some two years ago by a Belgian S10 swimmer on his blog after the European Championships in Eindhoven. After that the letter from IPC CEO Gonzales gave all of us a positive feeling about upcoming change. But the things I hear from informal contact with people inside IPC and IPC Classifiers tell a very different story (phonecalls from IPC Headquarters in Bonn to classifiers during meets who try to change things, people who are fired for no apparent reason, etc…). The IPC doesn’t want to change anything, they want everybody to be quiet about all of it. Some of the… Read more »

Frank
Reply to  Anonymous
5 years ago

Perhaps then it’s the IPC Medical & Scientific Director Dr. Peter van de Vliet that’s the problem anonymous? Easy answer there if they like to fire people for no apparent reason.

I am sure you have more to share, we are all friends here.

incredulous
Reply to  Anonymous
5 years ago

So how can an organisation be so completely and totally unaccountable?
Sounds like you have a little inside knowledge Anonymous. Do you have any suggestions as to how any of this can be changed? Or at least brought more into the sphere of the general public which may force accountability?

Anonymous
Reply to  incredulous
5 years ago

First of all, I don’t want to throw any rocks to specific people. I think that Dr. Van de Vliet for instance is doing his very best with the limited resources he has. The people I didn’t mention by name is a different story.

Second. The organization is unaccountable because it consists out of people, some of whom unfortunately care more about their own then about moving the sport forward.

I also think that the IPC – like for instance the UCI about 20 years ago was afraid to really acknowledge they had a problem with doping – is afraid to loose face if this problem with IM is brought more into the sphere of the general public.
… Read more »

PARA SWIMMING RULES
Reply to  BBB
5 years ago

Why are you bringing Nathan Stein into your conversation?

aaa
Reply to  BBB
5 years ago

“Yes, he was classed in because there is not a true medical professional to be found at classifications. A swim coach doesn’t know what clonus is but a neurologist and physical therapist does. Unfortunately, these folks aren’t a part of the classification process.”

A classification team is composed of (at least) a technical and medical classifier. The medical needs to be a physio or an MD in order to take the classification courses, let alone survive education as an international trainee.

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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