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Paralympic Paradox
Rick Reilly
December 11, 2000
You thought there was a boatload of cheaters at the Sydney Olympics? You should've seen what happened when the Games were over. That's when the worst cheaters of all arrived—the paralympians.
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December 11, 2000

Paralympic Paradox

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You thought there was a boatload of cheaters at the Sydney Olympics? You should've seen what happened when the Games were over. That's when the worst cheaters of all arrived—the paralympians.

First, there were reports in respected newspapers in Sydney, London and Toronto of what some wheelchair track athletes were willing to do to win, including sit on tacks, stick themselves with pins, sit on ball bearings, tie piano wire around their scrotums or tie off their catheters until their bladders were nearly ready to burst. These advanced training methods gave these paralyzed athletes no pain but caused their sympathetic nervous systems to drive their blood pressure straight up, kick in the fight-or-flight response and improve performance by as much as 15%. (So that's how Ironside caught all those criminals.)

Question: What adjustments did you make to win the gold?

Answer: I switched to a much better staple gun.

Amazing. If high blood pressure is all you need to be an Olympian, let's get American athletes off all this wheat grass and have them start chugging the Wendy's deep-fryer vat! And who needs blood doping? Let's start nut roping!

"I can tell at the start line which runners are clamping their catheters," says Bert Burns, a U.S. quadriplegic who placed ninth in the 5,000. "They get goose bumps all over. Their muscles spasm, so their legs are hopping up and down by themselves, and they're sweating. Quadriplegics don't sweat much." (Another good indication is when everybody at the medal ceremony is wearing rubber boots.)

Doctors were checking the blood pressures of jumpy contestants before races—Burns says they forced a few athletes whose systolic pressure was more than 160 to go pee—but it's not easy to tell if someone is illegally boosting, is naturally intense or just had a Big Gulp. "You can't make everybody strip at the start line to check and see what he's doing under there," says Barry Ewing, chairman of Wheelchair Track and Field USA. They should. Clamping off your catheter can cause brain hemorrhage or death.

Oh, and 10 weightlifters from nine countries at the Sydney Paralympics tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, and one track athlete, Brian Frasure of the U.S., also tested positive. Then, in the December issue of a new Spanish business magazine, Capital, staff writer Carlos Ribagorda reported that at least 15 members of Spain's paralympic team weren't discapacitados (disabled) in any way. He should know, because the worm was one of the 15.

The author had been playing with Spain's intellectually disabled national team for two years, when paralympic team officials approached him about playing in Sydney. According to Capital editor Carlos Salas, Ribagorda decided to accept the offer with the intent of breaking the story afterward. The Spanish team ran away with the gold medal in Sydney. The paralympics requires a player to have an IQ of 70 or less to be eligible for intellectually disabled competition, but Ribagorda says nobody ever tested him. According to an American paralympic coach, some nations allowed athletes who suffered only from ADD or dyslexia to play on their hoops teams. (Hell, that describes many of the University of Minnesota teams.)

In Ribagorda's opinion, 10 basketball players were not intellectually disabled, and they included a lawyer, an engineer and some students. He also wrote that some other Spanish athletes participating in table tennis, track and field, and swimming events weren't disabled, either intellectually or physically. In other words, there were more bogus handicaps in Sydney than at a dentists' golf tournament. Ribagorda reported that five of Spain's medals—one in swimming, two in track and field, one in table tennis and the basketball gold—were productos de la farsa, which means phonier than a 50-cent Rolex. Yeee-ha! What's more fun than cheating the disabled out of glory?

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