The 2012 Paralympics are off to an inauspicious start, with the American team left in a bit of turmoil. On the eve of the launch of the 2012 Paralympics, the IPC is moving athletes all over the place after most likely protests by other countries. (Read more about classifications here, including a country’s ability to protest a swimmer’s classification.)
Among those moves that are confirmed by the start lists, Justin Zook has been moved back to the S10 classification, and superstar Mallory Weggemann has been moved up to the S8 classification.
This causes a number of problems for the Americans, not the least of which is that they took two of the United States’ best medal hopes and moved them to higher classification, which broadly speaking means much stiffer competition. Zook was the 2008 Olympic Champion in the 100 back in S10, but since those Games was moved to S9.
For Weggemann, this will be her first Paralympics, but she had been competing as an S7 swimmer. She will now face head-on the other star of American Paralympic swimming, Jessica Long, who is also in the S8 group.
It’s not clear if it’s unrelated, but American Victoria Arlen, who is brand new to the Paralympic scene this year but is already taking the world by storm by crushing World Records, is not listed as being entered in any races on the London 2012 website. We are seeking for a more complete answer to that, though she’s still entered in the meet.
Update: The Telegraph, a British paper, is reporting that Arlen is set to be reclassified as well.
Among the questions raised:
What Happens to World Records? – Both Zook and Weggemann broke World Records in their previous classifications, including Weggemann with more than a dozen record-breaking swims.
What Happens to the American Relays? – Relays at the Paralympics are done by “points”. Basically, all of the classifications are added up, and that point total must be under a certain sum: one for 20 points, one for 34 points. These athletes would have mostly been in the 34 point category, but now the Americans might have to rethink who are on those. The American men haven’t won a medal in the 34 point medley in some time, and this year’s team, with a big leadoff from Zook, was expected to challenge.
What About Three-Per-Event Rules and Qualiciation? – With these changes, the Americans are now forced to pull swimmers out of certain events, as they are limited to three entries per event and classification. With Jessica Long, Mallory Weggemann, and 2008 triple silver medalist Amanda Everlove, that leaves many other S8 swimmers in limbo. However, at present, the Americans have four swimmers (the three mentioned above plus Brickelle Bro) entered in the S8 50 free. Weggemann is not, however, entered in either the 100 fly or 100 breast: both events where she is the World Record holder under her old classification. In those two events, she was unlikely to contend for medals in the S8 (SM7 for breaststroke) classes.
A Mega Storyline Lost – If Arlen misses the meet, or is reclassified as well, this is perhaps the most disheartening for the Paralympic movement, as this will lose one of the best storylines of the 2012 Paralympics: Arlen vs. Simmonds. Victoria Arlen was in a vegetative state until 2009, then after years of being out of school moved right into high school and instantly became an honor roll student. She was a swimmer before the condition that caused her to lose the use of her legs, but she was only heard of in Paralympic circles when she exploded at the US Paralympic Trials this summer and began crushing World Records. Britain’s Eleanor Simmonds has become the face of these games. She won two gold medals in 2008 at only 14 years old, and was the first swimmer to break a World Record at the London Aquatics Centre. Having those two square off would have been massive for ratings. Let’s hope that this is still in play.