The International Paralympic Committee on Sunday, the eve of the 2013 IPC World Championships in Montreal Canada, announced that it had ruled American and IPC World Record holder Victoria Arlen ineligible for competition after the Board of Appeal of Classification denied an appeal by the USOC on Friday.
IPC Swimming can confirm that Victoria Arlen of the USA will not participate at the 2013 IPC Swimming World Championships and future IPC Swimming competitions having failed to provide conclusive evidence of a permanent eligible impairment.
Following her classification at the London 2012 Paralympic Games last August, IPC Swimming requested a medical report into her impairment within 12 months. This was duly provided by the USOC on 24 July 2013.
The medical report has been reviewed by five independent medical experts. All are in agreement that the report, its assessment and its diagnosis fail to provide sufficient evidence of an eligible impairment leading to permanent or verifiable activity limitation – which is required under the IPC Swimming Classification Rules and Regulations.
Therefore the athlete has been found non-eligible to compete in IPC swimming competitions.
Following a USOC appeal, the Board of Appeal of Classification (BAC) upheld the decision on Friday (9 August).
Arlen’s paralysis in her legs stemmed from a 2006 viral attack that at one point left her in a totally non-responsive state. In a miraculous story, she has not only returned to the pool, but has become one of the world’s best Para swimmers.
This is not the first time that the classification of the upstart Arlen has been called into question at the last minute; days before the start of the Paralympic Games, her classification was called out as well.
The IPC’s finding, while it would surely be spectacular if Arlen’s condition was cured, leaves her in a bit of athletic limbo. Her disability leaves her unable to compete in standard competitions against athletes without paralysis, but similarly she’s not eligible for IPC competition, either.
She has been in a wheel chair for 7 years. Larry Arlen, Victoria’s father says that Victoria’s doctor has denied saying anything of the sort. Several senators, including the two from her native New Hampshire, have taken up the cause, as have several of the world’s largest disability organizations.
Arlen swims in the S6 classification, which is the same classification as Britain’s star Ellie Simmonds, who is the biggest name in the sport and is rumored to have inked over $1 million in endorsements. At the 2012 Paralympic Games, Arlen took gold in the 100 free and silver in the 50 and 400 frees, while Simmonds won the 400 free and 200 IM, took silver in the 100 free, and bronze in the 50 free.
Once again, the political and technical challenges of the IPC classification system has been brought to the forefront. Many, including most vocally the athletes themselves, have questioned the current system and whether it creates the most level playing field. Of course, rulings on ‘permanence’ of a disability is significant, to differentiate an athlete with a hairline fracture in their leg from one with a permanent paralysis, however the line seems to be a fuzzy one, especially with advances in medical technology giving more-and-more people the hope for cures for different conditions. IPC athletes have to take great care in their public statements in terms of appearances on improvement in actual physical condition if there is not any such improvement, for risk of repercussions like these.
Meanwhile, with the World Championships beginning in earnest this morning in Canada, three World Records were broken: Russia’s Konstantin Lisenkov broke the men’s S8 100 backstroke World Record in 1:04.12 (beating his own best); Mexican S4 swimmer Nely Miranda swam a 41.72 to knock two seconds from the old World Record from 2011; and Ukraine’s Olga Sviderska swam a 3:46.04 in the women’s S3 200 free, which took an unbelievable 28 seconds off of the old World Record from 2008.