Paralympic Paradox

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.

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?

Ribagorda even charged that Spanish team officials knew of the
scam. "We were told to slow the rhythm of our play so as not to
awaken suspicions," Ribagorda reportedly has said. What will we
see in Spain next? Matadors and bulls splitting up gate receipts
in the arena parking lot after the bullfight?

True, Ribagorda returned his Games goodies and his gold medal,
but that's not going to cut it. In fact, there's only one way to
punish a despicable snake like him: Hey, Senor Ribagorda, you're
about to win a wheelchair race!

COLOR PHOTO: DANA FINEMAN/SYGMA

A journalist says that at least 15 members of Spain's paralympic
team weren't discapacitados in any way.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)