Category Archives: Paralympics

The Dark-side of the Paralympics

By The Spartans – Jonathon Ingham, George Robinson, Harry Katsanikakis and Eve Williams (E119 18J Students)


This blog was written as part of a collaborative team work task by students studying E119. They had to select a topic and then decide on what roles each person would perform in the team, such as researcher, writer, editor and leader. This blog was chosen as one of the four best blogs from around 80 blogs that were produced.


Every four years the Paralympic games are hosted as a parallel to the Olympics. This paramount international multi-sport event has become the largest single sporting movement globally, full of numerous inspirational, admirable athletes, leading to an emotional para-sport. As the Paralympian’s have a vast range of disabilities, from impaired muscle power such as muscular dystrophy, to limb deficiencies caused by amputations, the need for characterisations is crucial. However, these classifications are of high-priority, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) (2014) illustrates the worry of predictable competition, in which the most able athlete always wins. Hence, the division of para-athletes into ‘sport classes’, established upon their impairment, preventing such concerns.

What is the classification system?

Any Paralympian has a competitive disadvantage when it comes to sport. Hence the classification system. The system allows for the division of para-athletes into their correlative sporting groups, identifying the severity of their impairments. The intention of the classification system is to decrease the impact of individual physical impairments on the overall sports performance, identifying the athletes according to their limitations in a certain sport. The athlete’s fitness, skill, power, ability, focus and tactical ability are now relatively proportional to their competitors, ensuring for equal chance at success, with fair qualifying. Athlete’s performance is dependent on the sport, each sport requires performance of different activities. Consequently, the impact on impairments differs, for classification to minimise the effect on sporting performance classification must be specific (IPC, 2014).

However, the Paralympics permits the observer ignorance, watching from behind a tv or, if lucky enough, the stadium, yet it’s not so innocent. The precise classification process allows exploitation, the IPC warned the BBC (2017) of intentional misrepresentation – athletes bluffing, pretending to have a graver disability with the hope to compete in favourable classes. Paralympian’s described the process of more able-bodied athletes being put into the same categories as severely disabled athletes, with the intention to win by cheating. In the words of hand cyclist Liz McTernan (2017) “we’re not all inspiring, we’re not all ethical”, faking disability is no different to doping.

Blood tests confirm the miss use of drugs, unfortunately, the ability to prove such impairment cheats is not so simple, with no definite way to verify allegations. Despite this, Van de Vliet (2017), the IPCs medical and scientific director, as well as head of classifications, has reassured specific athletes are monitored, with the view to identify consistent manifestation during performances, on-going investigations, with some cases being processed by external legal counsels.

What are the Dirty Tactics?

Further investigations, such as that by the BBC (2017) uncovered the ‘dirty tactics’, manipulating the classification system. Allegedly, schemes were employed by both athletes and coaches.

  • The taping of arms. Swimmers spend days with arms strapped, the tape being removed just before classification, full extension of the limb is now unachievable.
  • Taking cold showers. A swimmer with Cerebral Palsy is submerged into a cold environment, further worsening their already weak muscle tone, or
  • The shortening and removal of limbs. Operations being held with the bid to physically distort athletes, when questioned some athletes described “advance in career”.
  • Athletes using wheelchairs solely for classification, no other time is such equipment used.
  • “Boosting”. Explained by Carpenter (2012) as intentionally increasing blood pressure stimulating the body’s energy and endurance, consequently allowing Paralympian’s to enhance their levels of performance artificially.
  • Classifiers are coaches. Specific to an athlete’s sport, coaches fake the severity of their Paralympian’s disability.

These modern tricks are now described as the para-equivalent to doping. The classification process being criticised due to sport class expansion, allowing less impaired athletes to compete against extreme cases. The classification controversy is with hope to increase medal chances, and sponsorship. Accusations of intimidation and bullying are also present, many athletes are afraid to speak out, fearful they will not be selected for the sport they love (Grey-Thompson, 2017). Cheating in the Paralympics is proof athletes are prepared to go to extreme lengths to stand on the podium.

What does this mean for future Paralympian’s?

Ultimately, the Paralympics is a means of enjoyment, internationally inspiring various social groups proving the impossible is possible. If only this viewpoint was enough to end cheating, unfortunately not.

Ongoing investigations into the Paralympian classification systems, as well as several inquiries into sporting governance are all with the intention to prevent deception. Eriksson, head coach at the Paralympics GB Team 2012, states classifiers are ‘doing the best they can’ (2017). Although, elaborates on the belief the process pinpointing the lies requires an independent organisation, comparable to the World Anti-Doping Agency, using drugs in sport and the means of prevention as guidance.

Strong evidence is a must, confirming cheats is a sensitive issue, for this reason there’s a demand for a powerful case. Paralympic cheating needs to be tackled, tougher punishment, strong repercussions, the same penalties for doping infractions. The hope independent organisations attack the frauds, depleting dishonesty and lies, allowing for less questionable classification to occur.

References

Carpenter, K – Law in Sport (2012). [Online] Available at: https://www.lawinsport.com/blog/kevin-carpenter/item/the-dark-side-of-the-paralympics-cheating-through-boosting

Peter Eriksson – I’m handing back my medal’, a Paralympic study (2017). [Online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/disability-sport/41851149

Grey-Thompson, T – I’m handing back my medal’, a Paralympic study (2017). [Online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/disability-sport/41851149

Grant, P – I’m handing back my medal’, a Paralympic study (2017). [Online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/disability-sport/41253174

The International Paralympic Committee, Official website of the Paralympic Movement (2014). [Online] Available at: https://www.paralympic.org/classification

The Week – Paralympics: ‘Faking disability is no different to doping’ (2017). [Online] Available at: https://www.theweek.co.uk/paralympics/88468/paralympics-faking-disability-is-no-different-to-doping

Van de Vliet, P. – ‘I’m handing back my medal’, a Paralympic study (2017). [Online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/disability-sport/41253174

Golden Oldies!

By Ben Langdown

Late nights watching Olympic and Paralympic sport have been a highlight of my summer and it has been absolutely incredible. The lack of sleep has aged me considerably but it has been worth every second to see all the amazing stories unfold.

The media has always loved a story of winning against all odds. In particular, with regard to age:

Too young to win – but look out for them in Tokyo!

Long past their prime – far too old for a spot on the podium!

And then it happens as quinquagenarians pop up and win Olympic and Paralympic gold medals! 15 year olds win medals in varying events and spark a flurry of news reports on success at such a young age.

Male Life Cycle

But why should we be so surprised about athletes young and old winning medals?

As we age many changes take place within our bodies as we develop and train towards peak physiological age of between 20-39 years old, dependant on the sport or event (Allen & Hopkins, 2015). Our muscles grow bigger, stronger and faster, the heart increases in size and can pump with greater force and capacity meaning we can run for longer, row harder or swim faster (see Lloyd and Oliver, 2013 for a full review of youth physical development). As we adapt to aerobic training we experience an array of changes in and around our muscles including an increase in the size and number of mitochondria which are the energy producing powerhouses in muscle cells (NSCA, 2016). This increase results in more energy for muscle contractions and allows us to go:

 Citius, Altius, Fortius!

 Then we hit the slippery slope…I am not even going to search the Latin for ‘Slower, Lower, Weaker’, but you get the idea! From the age of 30 the body’s systems, responsible for our peak performances, will stand at the top of the slope and look down (Spirduso et al, 2005). Now begins the slow, gradual descent that reverses all the good things their childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood years brought them, reducing an athlete’s chances of success.

ID-10055113 FreeDigitalPhotos.net Stuart Miles

FreeDigitalPhotos.net Stuart Miles

After the landmark 30th birthday the following changes start to take place at even the highest levels of sport:

  • Decreases in strength and power due to decreases in muscle mass and increases in intramuscular fat (Rodriguez et al., 2009).
  • Decreased muscular endurance, resting metabolic rate and increased body fat (NSCA, 2016).
  • Cardiac output decreases at a rate of 1% per year as does V̇O2Max, averaging 1% per year from 25 – 75 years (Jackson et al., 1996; Schvartz & Reibold, 1990 as cited in Garber & Glass, 2006).

For example, performance in competitive weightlifting declines by 1-1.5% per year until 70, after which the performance decrement gets even greater (Meltzer, 1994, as cited in NSCA, 2016).

A note of caution – the physiological adaptations to ageing are dependent on the individual, the amount of physical activity, the environment, and disease (Garber & Glass, 2006)).

 STOP PRESS!

This summer athletes have been pushing the boundaries of their physiological clocks; whether this is the result of training or through sheer determination to succeed one last time…

Take Elizabeth Kosmala, a 9-time gold medallist competing in her 12th Paralympics at the age of 72. Okay, she started out as a swimmer and has since switched to the less physically demanding event of shooting, but it is still an achievement to be competing at the top level in her category.

How about 50-year-old Kazakh, Zulfiya Gabidullina who won her country’s first-ever Paralympic Games medal with a world record breaking performance in the S3 class 100m freestyle swimming. Allen and Hopkins (2015) reported that swimmers generally peak around the age of 20! What’s even more impressive is that she didn’t even start training for swimming until her 30s!

Nick Skelton is another great example, at 58 years old, overcoming the physical demands of equestrian events to take individual jumping gold with his horse, Big Star, himself also a veteran (in horse terms!) at 13 years old!

At the other end of the spectrum the youngsters have also picked up medals in both the Olympics and Paralympics. Most notably the likes of gymnast Amy Tinkler (16 yrs), bronze medallist and the youngest member of #TeamGB, swimmers Ellie Robinson (15 yrs, S6) and Becky Redfern (16 yrs, SB13). Also athletes such as Kare Adenegan (15 yrs, T34) and Ntando Mahlangu (14 yrs, T42), who took the 200m silver behind #ParalympicGB’s Richard Whitehead (40 yrs) which is surely one of the biggest age gaps between gold and silver winning athletes!

It is easy to get drawn into the stories surrounding performances but we must pause for a moment and consider the factors potentially allowing them to happen. Let’s take the young competitors first, there is a high possibility that, physically, they have developed earlier than a lot of their peers and are therefore ready to compete at the highest level. Yes, there will be training and physiological adaptations to come but they could be, what are known as, early maturing individuals (Lloyd et al., 2014).

 FreeDigitalPhotos.net arztsamui

FreeDigitalPhotos.net arztsamui

As for the older competitors, especially at the Paralympics, we have to look at the talent pool from which they are emerging. A small talent pool allows athletes to compete for longer and achieve better results than they would if this talent pool were to grow. For example, the women’s 100m freestyle event in swimming, at the Olympics this event was won by Simone Manuel, a 20 year old American. She came from a pool of over 500 swimmers who, on the Fina world ranking list, are all within 5 seconds of each other, thus there is an abundance of swimmers competing on that world stage. Conversely, 50-year-old Paralympian gold medallist Gabidullina has succeeded from a talent pool of 19 swimmers listed on the S3 IPC world rankings, only one of whom was within 5 seconds of her time.

Of course there are many other variables I have not discussed and it is never an exact science to say who will win and at what age, but to even qualify for either of the Games there are times and standards in place, albeit put in place by each home country. So, as the Paralympics continue to thrive following the success of the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Games, it is possible that these talent pools will grow therefore reducing the amount of stories we hear of the super quinquagenarians achieving Citius, Altius, Fortius!

 

References:

Allen, S. V., & Hopkins, W. G. (2015). Age of peak competitive performance of elite athletes: a systematic review. Sports Medicine, 45(10), 1431-1441.

Lloyd, R. S., Oliver, J. L., Faigenbaum, A. D., Myer, G. D., & Croix, M. B. D. S. (2014). Chronological age vs. biological maturation: implications for exercise programming in youth. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 28(5), 1454-1464.

Lloyd, R. S., & Oliver, J. L. (2012). The youth physical development model: A new approach to long-term athletic development. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 34(3), 61-72.

Garber, C. E., & Glass, S. C. (2006). ACSM’s resource manual for guidelines for exercise testing and prescription. L. A. Kaminsky, & K. A. Bonzheim (Eds.). Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Haff, G. G., & Triplett, N. T. (Eds.). (2016). Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning 4th Edition. Human kinetics.

Rodriguez, N. R., DiMarco, N. M., & Langley, S. (2009). Position of the American dietetic association, dietitians of Canada, and the American college of sports medicine: nutrition and athletic performance. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 109(3), 509-527.

Spirduso, W. W., Francis, K. L., & MacRae, P. G. (2005). Physical dimensions of aging, 2nd Ed. Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL.

 

Medal Quest: Can you guide a promising young athlete to championship success?

To celebrate the 2016 Olympics and Paralympics we have developed a new interactive game called Medal Quest to test your skills in mentoring a young performer towards Olympic success as a senior athlete.

platforms

Click here to play the game

Please note that this game works best on Chrome, Firefox and Safari. It does not always work on Internet Explorer.

What do the Olympic medal tables say about your nation’s sporting priorities?

By Ben Oakley and Simon Shibli

Each time the Olympic and Paralympic Games come around, a small minority of nations tend to do well. On average, only 25% of competing nations at the Olympics will win a gold medal – and they’re pretty much the same ones year in, year out.

Intrigued, we dug into data spanning back to 1948 – derived from our colleagues at Gracenote Sport – to unravel how different countries approach sport, and how that affects their chances of Olympic success.

Looking back over the last 20 years, we found that the top 20 nations have consistently won more than 70% of the medals at each games. Despite the fact that some progress has been made over the last five games, the figure below demonstrates that this trend has persisted throughout modern Olympic history.

It follows that if some nations consistently perform very well, others repeatedly do not. One group which appears to perform relatively poorly is Muslim nations – which we define as those nations where around 50% of the population is Muslim. We found 53 nations that meet this definition, which collectively account for 18% of the world’s population.

Econometric models have consistently shown that bigger populations and greater wealth are closely linked with medal success. But based on these trends, Muslim nations perform well below what we might expect. For instance, Muslim nations only won 61 (6.3%) of the medals awarded at London 2012. By comparison, the top-ranked nation at the games (the US) racked up 104 (10.8%) of the medals, with only 4.5% of the world’s population.

There are several reasons which could explain this relatively poor performance. For one thing, the Olympics largely features typically European sports, such as swimming, rowing and cycling. All of these require significant facilities and investment to develop medal winners. This doesn’t play to the strengths of many Muslim nations, which tend to be more successful in combat sports and weightlifting – events where there are comparatively fewer medals up for grabs.

The gender balance

All things being equal, you would expect nations to win medals in proportion to the medals available for each gender (47% women, 53% men). The fact that women won just 15 (25%) of the Muslim nations’ 61 medals at London 2012 indicates that Muslim nations under-perform in women’s events particularly.

When we considered the top ten nations in London 2012, we noticed that Korea and Italy also under-performed in women’s events, and over-relied on men for their overall success. By contrast, in recent years China has actively targeted success in women’s events. This has proved to be a highly successful strategy: 57% of the nation’s medals in 2012 were won by women, which led to second place in the medal table.

Other nations with strong contributions made by women include the US – where college sport provides a fruitful pathway to develop young talent – and Australia, which has targeted elite sport success for men and women since the 1980s, when it set up the Australian Institute of Sport. Meanwhile, with their successful equestrian programmes, Germany and Great Britain won nearly 10% of their medals in mixed or open events at London 2012.

Positive approaches to women’s sport will only become more significant, as the International Olympic Committee works towards its goal to achieve gender equity in the 2020s.

Paralympic power

As you might expect, there is a strong correlation between the nations which dominate the Olympics, and those which succeed at the Paralympics. But a few nations buck the trend: some perform better in the Paralympics than the Olympics, and others significantly worse.

To illustrate this point, the figure below shows the index scores of Paralympic success compared with Olympic success for London 2012. An index score simply enables us to make a like for like comparison between the two events. For example, the US won 6% of medals in the Paralympic Games and 12% in the Olympic Games. So, the US has an index score of 50 ([6% / 12%] x 100 = 50), which means that it achieved only half the success in the Paralympic Games, relative to the Olympic Games.

The higher the index, the greater the nation’s Paralympic success, relative to its performance in the Olympics. We did this calculation for all nations which won at least 15 Paralympic medals.

North African nations Algeria and Tunisia – which also happen to be Muslim nations – excelled at the Paralympics relative to the Olympics. Of the traditional Olympic powers, better performances were also seen by Ukraine, Australia, China, Canada and Spain – three of which have been recent hosts (Sydney in 2000, Beijing in 2008 and Barcelona in 1992).

By contrast, the US and Japan performed relatively poorly at the Paralympics, suggesting that elite disabled athletes may not be receiving the levels of support which are provided to elite able-bodied athletes.

Fuller explanations for these variations are complex, but social attitudes towards disability must play a part. For instance, British parliamentarian and multi-Paralympic medallist Tanni Grey-Thompson cited the role of television coverage as a key factor in the US’s modest Paralympic performance.

Bizarrely, in a country where you have Title IX about women’s entitlement to sport at university and they have had scholarship programmes for disabled athletes for 40 years … the public do not get to see it [on television].

As the Olympics and Paralympics play out in Rio throughout August and September, we’ll probably see the same old suspects dominating the medal tables. But dig beneath the surface, and you’ll find that the results can tell us a thing or two about each nation’s sporting priorities: especially when it comes to the success of their elite women and disabled athletes.

The Conversation

Ben Oakley, Head of Childhood, Youth and Sport, The Open University and Simon Shibli, Professor of Sport Management, Sheffield Hallam University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.