PHOENIX, Arizona, August 29. THE day before the commencement of the swimming events at the 2012 Paralympic Games, U.S. swimmers Justin Zook and Mallory Weggemann have been reclassified. Reclassifications typically happen before big events, when the International Paralympic Committee [IPC] confirms or changes an athlete's classification based on their level of disability.
Weggemann, 22, is relatively new in Paralympic swimming, coming to the sport in 2008 after a routine epidural for back pain caused leg paralysis. The eight-time World Champion's recent rise to prominence and numerous world records caused questioning about her classification. Weggeman was previously slated to swim seven events in London, but after her reclassification will only swim five events against more able-bodied competitors.
Zook, a two-time Paralympic Champion, has been bounced around the disability classes a number of times. The most recent was in 2009, when Zook, who cannot use his right leg, was classified S9 (minimal disability). With the recent ruling, he will return to this classification, competing against athletes with less severe disabilities.
Another U.S. athlete facing potential removal from the Paralympic Games is 17-year-old swimmer Victoria Arlen. In 2006, she paralyzed after a virus attacked her spinal cord. At the U.S. Paralympic Trials, she broke World Records in the 100 and 400 meter freestyle races. However, on Monday the IPC ruled that her impairment does not affect her ability to swim enough to consider her a Paralympic athlete. The U.S. Paralympic Committee filed an appeal against this ruling and is awaiting a final decision Thursday.
“We did everything possible to ensure a thorough and fair process, however, we have exhausted all possible avenues for reconsideration and, unfortunately, our appeals were not successful,” said Secretary General of the U.S. Paralympic Delegation Charlie Huebner in reference to the reclassifications. “We feel bad for these athletes who have come to London prepared to compete and their families who have travelled here to support them.”
Huebner later added, “We respect the IPC classification system which is fundamental to Paralympic sport and we will abide by the decisions.”
Read the full story at BBC Sport
UPDATE: August 30 Victoria Arlen to Complete Before Final Classification, Statement from Mallory Weggeman
U.S. swimmer Victoria Arlen was ruled ineligible for the Paralympic Games by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Monday. Today, we hear news that the U.S. Paralympic Committee's appeal was upheld. Arlen will be allowed to compete in her Paralympic events, but will face the IPC's final decision on Saturday. She could still be deemed ineligible for the Games, or face reclassification. The ruling will undoubtedly be based off of her performance in the swimming events this week.
Of the 245 athletes that have so far been classified at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, 142 have had their status confirmed, and 40 have been reclassified.
Yesterday, it was reported that eight-time Paralympic World Champion Mallory Weggeman was reclassified, moving her into a position to compete against more able-bodied competitors. In the wake of this ruling, Weggemann released the following statement:
“Just hours before opening ceremonies, we received the news that our appeal for my reclassification was denied. The IPC confirmed my new classification as a S8/SB7/SM8 moving me up from the S7/SB6/SM7 classification where I have competed for the past three and a half years. I feel as though the system has failed me, as well as other athletes. A system that we as athletes trust to do the right thing and maintain the integrity of the sport but also protect us as athletes to create an equal playing field for all. After hearing word that our appeal to over turn the classification result had been denied I lost faith in that system. I have trained the past four and a half years for these games and within less then 24 hours before my first race was supposed to start it all changed, everything I had prepared myself for these past four years changed right there and then.
I understand change. I understand what it is like to have your life as you know it change in the blink of an eye. I went through that in 2008 when I was paralyzed. I walked into a clinic for a routine epidural injection and I never walked out. In that moment my life changed. My life changed again about four months later when I found my way back to the water again. After being a life long swimmer I found my love and passion for the sport unchanged. After seeing Trials for the US Paralympic Swim Team for the 2008 Games I was inspired to fight. To not let my new “disability” limit me, define me, or stop me from believing in what my future could hold. That day changed my life, my swimming saved me and allowed me to not only hope again but to believe again.
Coming into London for these Games and reflecting on my journey these past four and a half years it was a dream come true to not only be here but to know that I have pushed my body to new limits and overcome adversity. The values of the Paralympics are courage, determination, inspiration, and equality. These four values are consistent with how I live my daily life and are why I am so passionate about the Paralympic movement. With that said as I look to compete in my first event on Saturday I plan to rise above and not let this defeat me. I see this as a new opportunity to demonstrate that when life and people knock you down each and every one of us still has the ability to overcome and rise to the occasion.
This is a moment that I have poured my heart and soul into and although I do not agree with the decision that was brought down yesterday evening I do believe that everything happens for a reason and it is my hope that with this I can help change the system so there is more protection for athletes like myself. For these next ten days I will be racing, not the races I intended but none the less I will be competing for Team USA and I plan to continue do what I have done these past four years and push it to limit no matter what the classification. I want to say a special thank you to my family and sponsors for all of their overwhelming support throughout this process. I am truly humbled to have such an incredible support group.”