Over the past few weeks, news of para swimming athlete reclassifications have been flowing in.
That, however, was expected. In late 2017, World Para Swimming announced that it would implement a new classification process, effective January 1, 2018 – all athletes are required to undergo a new classification test in 2018 (with the exception of a few special cases, which can be found here).
What is newsworthy here is that the new process appears already to be failing, as well as highlighting the incorrect classifications of prominent para swimmers that World Para Swimming and the International Paralympic Committee have defended for years.
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 (IM). This is when an athlete intentionally makes their impairment seem more severe in order to be put into the wrong disability class.
This issue has gone largely unaddressed by top officials.
Thus, as we get word of a number of reclassifications, (to state the obvious) the implication is that many classifications were indeed wrong before 2018. This is not to say that this new system is a total fix; while some new classifications have held so far, a few athletes have been reclassified and then switched back to their old classification within days.
Seeking answers to what is naturally driving questions from our staff and readers alike, SwimSwam reached out to USOC Paralympic Communications Press Officer Olivia Truby, who said, “The classification process for athletes is a confidential process.” Additionally, US para swimmers have reportedly been instructed not to communicate with media.
Another wrench in the books, is that with virtually every para-swimmer in the world being kicked back to the review process, many World Record-clearing swims aren’t being ratified. This was highlighted today when newly-reclassed British Swimmer Alice Thai broke the World Record in the S8 100 free. Her mother, on Twitter, questioned it, saying that Lakeisha Patterson was faster at the Commonwealth Games. But, because Patterson’s class wasn’t confirmed within the allowable time period (which appears to be 6 weeks), that record won’t show up on the books.
Records can only be ratified when athletes have been confirmed with the right sport class status. More info available at https://t.co/w5crPmuuSB!
— World Para Swimming (@Para_swimming) May 31, 2018
It seems that this will again be a problem with Daniel Dias’ 50 free World Record-time that was clocked on Friday in Sheffield. It doesn’t appear as though he’s yet had his classification review, and he’s not on the schedule for the upcoming para-meet in Berlin, and it’s not clear where else he could be classified in the next 6 weeks.
Given how little transparency the sport is allowing and what little information we have, here’s the major news we can confirm so far (the WPS master list is yet to be updated, but results from the 2018 British Para Swimming International meet confirm a handful of swimmers):
- American record holder Robert Griswold was classed up from S8 to S9, then almost immediately classed back down to S8.
- Olympic gold medalist Michelle Konkoly, of the US, was classed up from S9 to S10.
- The US’ Julia Gaffney was classed down from S8 to S7.
- Ukrainian Denys Dubrov, who in 2016 went from world-class able-bodied swimmer to para world record holder with little explanation, will maintain his status as an S10.
- British swimmer Alice Tai has been classed down from S9 to S8.
- British swimmer Tully Kearney has been classed down from S7 to S5.
- British swimmer Grace Harvey was classed from from S7 to S6.
- British swimmer Ollie Hynd was classed up from S8 to S9, penning a note saying he was “heartbroken and confused.”
- British 2016 Paralympic medalist Stephanie Millward, who was classed down from S9 to S8 shortly before Rio, has again moved back to S9.