Ian Silverman, a World Record holder and Paralympic gold medalist from the 2012 Games, has penned a letter to the International Paralympic Committee. Silverman had been unclassified by IPC classifiers since his victories in London, but earlier this year was classified back into the S10 category.
After initially meeting the criteria to swim again at the 2016 Paralympic Games, Silverman withdrew from consideration for the team, citing his health.
Below is a letter that Silverman has sent both to the International Paralympic Committee and some of their sponsors on the issue of Intentional Misrepresentation (IM), which has become a significant subject in the last 5 years with heavy waves of reclassification among big-name swimmers.
The opinions expressed in this letter represent those of its author and does not necessarily reflect the views of SwimSwam.
To all it may concern:
The mission of the Paralympics is to level the playing field for disabled athletes. The Paralympic Games promote all the same principles and values of the Olympic Games, including elite athleticism. While doping scandals have tarnished the gleam of Olympic and Paralympic athletes alike, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) must address a more insidious scandal. Paralympic athletes are cheating the system by faking or exaggerating disabilities to gain a completive edge over the competition.
Multiple Paralympic athletes have been contacted by an individual from Ukraine who is trying to circulate information that proves Ukrainian Paralympian Denys Dubrov (S10, SM10 SB9) is faking a disability and playing with the world’s perception of the Paralympic movement. Mr. Dubrov has already smashed one Paralympic world record, and he will surely break several more in Rio if he is allowed to compete.
Denys Dubrov is an accomplished Ukrainian able-bodied swimmer who holds the Ukrainian National Swimming Record in the 200m IM with a time of 2:00.53 achieved in 2009. Mr. Dubrov showed up on the Paralympic scene back in July of 2014 at the IPC Swimming European Championships. There he swam the 200m IM and 100m Butterfly in 2:15.05 and 58.53 respectively. A true disability acquired between 2009 and 2014 could easily account for the disparity in times. However, most notably, Mr. Dubrov competed in a Ukrainian Championship meet in April of 2014 and swam the 200m IM and 100m fly in 2:04.58 and 53.92, respectively. Both of these times would have smashed the 200m IM (SM10) Paralympic world record (2:10.01) and the 100m butterfly (S10) Paralympic world record (55.99). He managed to swim these times only a few months before his classification at the IPC Swimming European Championships. How can this be possible?
|April 2014||July 2014||May2016|
|100 m Butterfly||53.92||58.33||56.43|
|200 m IM||2:04.58||2:15.05||2:08.71|
It is not possible. To be classified, one’s disability must be stable. It is difficult to image that Mr. Dubrov swam as an able-bodied athlete in April of 2014 and then as a disabled and significantly slower athlete in August of 2014 without intentionally swimming slower for the purpose of classification. How could his disease or disability impact him and then stabilize so quickly? It doesn’t seem to be stable at all as he is now inching closer to his able-bodied times. If one were to watch replays of him swimming and winning at the 2016 IPC Swimming European Championships in 2016, he seems to be toying with the great Andre Brasil and Benoit Hout, sticking his tongue out at the camera while destroying their records and the credibility of the movement. Denys Dubrov is about to commit the most outrageous fraud the Paralympic Movement has ever seen, and his countrymen are trying alert the public.
Another former Ukrainian able-bodied national team member has recently appeared on the scene and he, too, is now classified. Maksym Krpak is the newest addition to the S10 classification after being classified in Berlin in June 2016. His times are more comparable to able-bodied swimmers and, again, we see vast differences in times swum in able-bodied meets versus Paralympic meets.
|100 m Butterfly||54.55||57.07|
|100 m Freestyle||51.90||54.97|
His best time in the 800m freestyle clocks in at 8:06.31. Half that time would break the world record in the 400m freestyle, an event he swam in Berlin in a time of 4:07.35.
However, S10 is not the only classification with some very troubling classification movements. In the women’s S8 category, for example, there is Maddison Elliott who was inexplicably classified down to S8 from the S9 category during the IPC World Championships last year after only one race, the 100m M backstroke in which she swam a time of 1:25.42. This time is a far cry from her lifetime best and even further from the time she went a few days later in the same race, but different classification, to claim gold in the S8 100m backstroke with a much swifter time of 1:17.93, a best time. How can the IPC ignore that she swims far slower in S9 races than she does in S8 races?
Additionally, Stephanie Millward was just recently reclassified down to S8 despite spending the last 15 years of her swimming career in the S9 category. Millward just broke the world record in the S8 100m backstroke with a time of 1:12.94, besting a record that stood since 2009 by almost a second and a half (1:14.36). Despite this world record time, this was not even a particularly good swim for her, having swum faster than her 1:12.94 on more than a handful of occasions, even going as fast as 1:10.56 at IPC World Championships in 2013. If one is classified with a progressive neurologic disorder, then the correct classification should reflect the swimmer at her best, not her worst. It is impossible to predict if the rested and very fast Millward will show up to any given race or if the fatigued Millward will be racing. Again, one’s disability needs to be stable for a valid classification to occur.
Misrepresentation during classification not only impacts the individual races but the relay races as well. The relay races are based on a point system where each nation can combine athletes of different classifications (S1-10) to put forth a team totaling either 20 points or 34 points, depending on the race. If a nation enters a relay composing of S8, S8, S8 and S10 swimmers, this will total 34 points. However, if an S8 athlete is reclassified to S7, then a team could, theoretically, exchange an S8 for a faster S9. A team of S7, S8, S9 and S10 equals 34 points as well.
The Paralympics have a deep rooted problem with athletes misrepresenting themselves during classification to gain a competitive advantage in a lower class. The troubling part about it is that it is supported by coaches and national governing bodies. Many people are aware of this issue, yet no action is taken to rectify this wrong. Only national governing committees may protest the classification of an athlete from another country. An individual swimmer has no recourse to protest another athlete. Every nation has athletes who they know are not classified properly and protesting an athlete from another country will only leave one’s athletes vulnerable to counter protest – a form of retaliation. It is the dirty secret of the Paralympics. Nations may say they are protecting their athletes by staying silent; however, it is the true elite disabled athletes and the spirit of the movement that is being hurt by these misrepresentations.
Sven Decaesstecker, an S10 swimmer who specializes in the 200m IM, was the first to bring attention to the inconsistencies of Denys Dubrov. He addresses what he suspected was fraud in a blog he wrote following the IPC Swimming European Championships in August of 2014 (http://www.svendecaesstecker.be/Blog). In his blog he pleads with the IPC to look at Dubrov because, from his first-hand experience and published records of Dubrov’s times, he instantly identified the inclusion of Dubrov as a threat to the credibility of the movement and a slap in the face to the history of suffering and overcoming challenges that every truly disabled athlete faces. Swimming is Sven’s profession, and Denys Dubrov has disrupted the swimming community and those who depend on it as their full-time job. He pleaded with the IPC in 2014. They have had two years to address the issue. However, no one listened to Sven and now, less than 50 days away from opening ceremonies, misrepresentation in classification is the hottest topic in Paralympic swimming. This will undoubtedly cast a shadow over the hard work and sacrifice of the legitimate athletes.
2012 was the most-watched Paralympic Games in history. Viewership was up 39% from the Beijing Games. Many of the London Paralympic events were sold out. The United Kingdom embraced the games as the Peoples’ Games and broadcasted unprecedented coverage of the Games. This allowed Europe to appreciate and embrace the amazing athletes. The IPC has an even bigger opportunity to promote the movement with NBC promising 66 hours of coverage, 60 hours more than in 2012. The American public will have a novel opportunity to learn about the movement, but also scrutinize the gross inconsistencies of this movement.
With the eyes of the world on our athletes, the movement has an opportunity to rise from the shadows and become a movement that the world’s compassion and respect can propel forward.
The IPC reports that it is working hard to eliminate the disparities in classification. For the first time, medical professionals are reportedly required to be a part of the classification process. For decades, swim coaches with a handbook have been asked to make medical assessments that take physicians and physical therapist years to master. In my June 2016 classification, in which I was again classified S10, the “experts” incorrectly tallied my score and added points back to my stronger leg rather than my smaller, weaker, and newly reconstructed left leg. They completely switched my left and right leg and added points to my total that exceeded the maximum amount of points one can have on an extremity during a classification. The maximum amount of points you can have on one extremity is five, meaning no impairment. Yet after the water portion of my test, the points they added back (which they gave no explanation for, breaking the rules again) gave me six and sevens. Additionally, the IPC still has not addressed the issues related to the old rules and the new rules. There is a whole generation of Paralympic athletes who were classified under a different set of rules and criteria.
In 2015 in Toronto, Canada I was classed out by 1 point. I received identical scores for each of my lower extremities. My left foot and leg were equinus and I had a profound deformity of my left foot (compared to my right foot). Three months following that classification, I underwent two massive surgeries because of this acquired deformity which was induced by my asymmetrical equinus gait. I could not protest the incompetence of the classifiers who failed to recognize the gross differences between my two legs. One can only protest if there is a process error, not that the classifiers got it wrong and that their assessments were contrary to my physical exam, x-rays, and reams of medical records. A Canadian athlete arrived at his classification (in Toronto 2015) with a new and profound limp and assisted by crutches. We have been competitors for years and he previously had neither. He was classed in. Two weeks later he was seen on IPC sponsored live stream at a Paralympic meet with no limp and no crutches. His teammates knew of the ruse and they privately spoke to me of the shame they felt on the athlete’s behalf. Worse, Canadian coaches were a witness to all of this and quietly accepted the fraudulent gain.
The point of the Paralympics is to level the playing field, to allow elite, disabled athletes the opportunity to compete with individuals of similar abilities. The playing field is far from level and the IPC has a lot of work to do.