US Para-Swimmers Michelle Konkoly, Julia Gaffney Reclassified

In October 2017, World Para Swimming announced a new classification process aimed at reducing instances of intentional misrepresentation in the sport, with the new rules effective January 1st, 2018.

As a refresher: 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.

The revisions to the system affect mostly the technical assessment portion of the classification process, and all athletes must attend a re-assessment at the nearest opportunity. There are a few exceptions to that rule, which you can read about in the official revisions rulebook here.

With that in mind, swimmers at the Indianapolis World Para Swimming World Series stop last month began the re-classification process. Among those reclassified were US swimmers Michelle Konkoly and Julia Gaffney. Konkoly, 26, was been paralyzed from the waist-down after a 5-story fall in 2011, but since has had several surgeries and rehab, has regained much function in her legs, and can walk again. She was formerly an S9/SB8/SM9 swimmer, and has been moved to the S10/SB9/SM10 classes.

Konkoly swam as an S9 in Indianapolis and won the 50 and 100 free (29.36 and 1:03.03). She also swam in prelims for the 100 breast (1:50.52). She is the S9 world record holder in the 50 free (28.29) after taking gold in Rio in 2016. Her 50 and 100 free times from Indianapolis rank 5th and 4th in the S10 class this year, respectively. Given that she is now competing against swimmers with less severe impairments than she previously was, it bodes well for Konkoly that she remains in the top 5.

Gaffney, 17, has had her right leg amputated above the knee and her left leg amputated below the knee since birth. She was formerly and S8/SB6/SM8 swimmer, and is now S7/SB6/SM7. The move is significant because swimmers in her new class will have more severe impairments than in her former class, as is evident in her new world rankings. In Indianapolis, she competed in the 100 breast (1:49.62), 100 back (1:25.76), 200 IM (3:09.78), 50 fly (37.53), and 100 free (1:13.91). Her 100 back time is now the #1 S7 time in the world this year (up from the #5 S8 time), and all of her other times are in the top-5 worldwide in their respective classes.

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Can you explain how this worked for Konkoly please? She was classified as S9SB8SM9 then competed as S9 but was then classed up to S10 during competition? What then is the point of the pre competition classification? Was she borderline between the two classes? What is her thoughts on the new classification process and being moved classes during competition? I thought the new classification process was meant to be very thorough but it doesn’t seem like it can be if you can be moved classes during competition so easily. I don’t think she can be described as being ‘paralyzed from the waist down’ though. On a plus, at least she’ll be able to race the 50fr now.

Coach John

I know from my own experience (with new system and having an athlete bumped up/down) they do the bench test (dry) before the meet, are preliminarily designated a class and are either confirmed or not at that class based on an observation of races during the competition so they are then confirmed or not at the end of the meet.

in my athletes case he came into the bench test as X, was bumped to Y after the bench then had a retest of the bench after 1 day of racing and was bumped to X and finalized as X on the last day.


Yeesh. I understand the necessity and I’m glad they’re working toward more fair and objective classifications, but that sounds like a headache at best.

Coach John

if this short-term discomfort will clean up the sport even slightly (within reason) I’m all for it.


What about the new longer technical testing component, when is that done? In the old system – bench (medical) test, water (technical) test then class allocation prior to competition. Was the swimmer called back for bench retesting by the classifiers or was the call back due to a protest? Sorry, bit confused but if they are retesting during competition then yes that is a good thing.


I think both swimmers are now in their correct class. Does anyone know what happened to Marks who was suppose to be done at this meet?


The classification system is still broke with no signs the IPC have taken into account any of the views of swimmers or coaches.
If you look at the latest classification list for Sheffield later this year you will see the team GB have put Fox and Leach back up for reclassification after Copenhagen.
This despite both protesting in Copenhagen, also Australia are sending two swimmers for their first IPC classification who are very close to being NE.
This sport will not clear up the classification system until swimmers are dealt with when they commit IM


Wish people would have the spine to say why they disagree then at least we would all know who was who.
Funny thing is word from GB swimmer is both Fox and leach are looking to challenge their classification on a technicality
Should be made to stay as they are until all swimmers have been reclassified

About Torrey Hart

Torrey Hart

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

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