Paralympians can do the same things as Olympic athletesPosted: Wednesday March 06, 2002 4:24 PM
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The para- prefix in Paralympics is for parallel, a reminder that physically challenged athletes can do many of the same things as the stars of the Olympics.
That includes cheating, too.
The Salt Lake City Winter Paralympics open Thursday amid a growing awareness of the darker side to sports, a realization that some of its athletes have used illegal substances to boost performances.
"People are people. The mind works the same, whether you have a leg or not, whether you have a broken spine or whatever," said U.S. sledge hockey defenseman Dan Henderson, an amputee.
"When you get a large group of athletes together, some people are willing to do whatever they need to win."
The problem is not considered widespread.
International Paralympic Committee spokeswoman Susanne Reiff said there's never been a positive doping result at the Winter Paralympics, first staged in 1976 at Ornskoldsvik, Sweden.
Doping, though, was a huge story at the 2000 Summer Paralympics in Sydney. After five cases in 1992 in Barcelona and none four years later in Atlanta, Reiff said there were 11 in Australia -- 10 involving powerlifters.
"The bizarre happens. Cheating happens," said Chris Devlin-Young, an American disabled skier.
The Paralympics have grown since 250 athletes participated in Sweden. This month, about 450 athletes will ski down the mountain at Snowbasin, glide across the trails at Soldier Hollow and chase the puck at the E Center.
Although the Salt Lake City numbers are down from the 571 who participated four years ago in Nagano, organizers think the event has grown in popularity and the stakes are higher.
"Paralympic sports are getting more and more like other elite sports," Reiff said. "It's about high performance, and some athletes use methods such as doping to get a medal. The motivation is the same in any sport."
Drug cases among Paralympians are rare. Athletes say most involve someone who unwittingly takes an asthma drug or sinus medication that includes banned substances.
Still, the same rules apply to Paralympians and Olympians. Both are expected to take responsibility for what goes into their bodies, and the list of prohibited drugs is identical at both events.
The IPC banned the powerlifters from competition after the Sydney scandal, along with an American track athlete who tested positive. It also launched a campaign to warn about the dangers of doping.
Just as during last month's Winter Olympics, Paralympic athletes are subject to out-of-competition drug tests from the moment they check into the Paralympic Village. All medalists are tested.
"With the extent of the testing, I don't know how anybody thinks they can get away with it," said U.S. sledge hockey center Joe Howard. "If you're taking drugs to mask the doping, they'll find that, too."
Reiff would not say how many tests will be performed before the Salt Lake City games close March 16.
"We will test as many as we can," she said.
Historically, doping wasn't a major problem at the Winter Olympics until Salt Lake City. The most visible cases involved cross-country skiers Johann Muehlegg of Spain and Larissa Lazutina of Russia, who both were stripped of gold medals.
And last week, a resident of Midway, Utah, discovered used transfusion equipment after returning to the home she had rented to the Austrian cross-country team. The International Olympic Committee is investigating.
Of greater concern than doping to Paralympians is the possibility of someone faking a disability. For example, a cheater could overstate his or her blindness and find a doctor to sign off on it.
Another well-publicized controversy at the Sydney Paralympics came after organizers determined Spanish basketball players had a higher intellectual level than they had claimed.
"That's more of a prevalent concern," Devlin-Young said. "If you're missing a leg or an arm, it's gone. You can't fake that."
Strange as it might sound, some athletes see a positive side of any Paralympics doping scandal. A persistent message from organizers is that, besides a wheelchair or prosthesis, Paralympics athletes are no different.
"People are always saying how inspirational we are,' Devlin-Young said. "Maybe a scandal would help put us over the hump. It might make people say, 'Hey, they've got problems like everyone else.'"