International Paralympic Committee investigating Van der Vorst’s claimed paralysis
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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

International Paralympic Committee investigating Van der Vorst’s claimed paralysis

by Shane Stokes at 3:37 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
Possibility that Beijing medals could be stripped if inquiry finds fault

Monique Van der VorstIn the wake of today’s earlier news that the Rabobank team has ended its contract with the former Paralympic athlete Monique Van der Vorst, saying that their doctors had advised her not to compete for reasons unstated, it has emerged that her two silver medals from the 2008 Beijing Games are being examined in terms of legitimacy.

Following a story in the Telegraph, International Paralympic Committee spokesman Craig Spence elaborated on the situation with VeloNation today, saying that her admission earlier this year that she could walk at certain periods of time while officially said to be paralysed had triggered an investigation.

“Monique was first classified in 2002 and reclassified in 2006,” he told VeloNation. “She competed in the 2008 Paralympic games and won two silver medals. Then she had the accident in 2010, then she was able to walk again; after that she confessed on Dutch TV a while ago that she was always able to walk.

“As a result of that we have referred the matter to our Legal and Ethics committee. They are considering the case that the moment, and there is a range of possibilities on what they can do. One of the things we could potentially do is remove the medals from her from Beijing.”

He said it was too soon to know how things could turn out, and that more work needed to be done to determine how the situation had unfolded. “We have got to look into why wasn’t it picked up that she could potentially walk,” he elaborated. “There may be medical reasons for that, but at the moment we are looking into it and presenting the case to our Legal and Ethics committee. When they have studied it, they will come to a decision on what the next steps are.”

As detailed earlier today, Van der Vorst’s story is a complicated one. She said that she lost the use of one of her legs following an infection at thirteen years of age, taking up handcycling at that point, then lost the use of the other leg when she was hit by a car prior to the Paralympic Games in Beijing in 2008.

“I got a spinal cord injury, incomplete at C4, and from that moment both my legs were paralysed,” she told VeloNation in an extensive two part interview carried out last November.

After taking two silver medals in the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing and winning the overall handcycle category at the 2009 Hawaii Ironman, she had was regarded as a miraculous recovery in 2010. She was hit by a bike while training in Majorca and hospitalized in March of that year. In June 2010 she said that she started feeling tingling in her legs and by the following month, was able to start walking. She took up cycling after that.

Her story gained a certain amount of press attention but then snowballed last winter after she signed a contract to compete with the Rabobank women’s team, riding alongside others such as Marianne Vos. She said that she would need time to build to the necessary level, but that competing in the 2016 Olympic Games was a big target.

A cloud in the silver:

The positive press she enjoyed was however rocked in March when the Dutch De Pers publication said that Van der Vorst has admitted to being able to stand and walk at limited moments during the years that she had previously implied that she had no movement. It referred to ‘countless witnesses’ who had contradicted her story, including one who said that she was seen standing and putting her wheelchair in her car following a November 2009 presentation.

Spence didn’t reveal what would be covered in the IPC Legal and Ethics committee investigation, but it is likely that they will seek to determine if she was truly paralysed at the time of the Beijing Paralympics. If it transpires that this was not the case, it is difficult to see how she could keep her medals.

Asked how the IPC could have missed that a competitor might not have been paralysed at a time when she was competing under that classification, Spence said that the Committee didn’t itself do the assessment. “You’d need to speak to the UCI for that,” he told VeloNation, “it is their sport, so they will be able to walk you through how they classify a cycling athlete.

“We rely on the federation, they approve the athletes who come to the Games. Obviously she competes in the Paralympic Games, therefore when she says that she can walk again, that becomes our issue.”

VeloNation discussed the issue with the UCI’s spokesman Enrico Carpani this evening. He said that about two months ago the UCI sent all the materials it had in connection to this case to the IPC and was waiting for feedback from the Committee. He said that once it received the IPC’s response, that it would then be able to determine its own stance on the matter.

“We did classify the athlete,” Carpani confirmed. “We asked our classificators about this and they said that at that time, there was no means to understand that this girl was not a [legitimate] para-athlete. For us the classification was correct. What has happened after is something to be decided, but at that time, we took the right decision based on the elements in our possession.”

Carpani didn’t personally have details of how the classification is determined and how the UCI verifies if a disability is genuine, but said that more details on that process will be supplied to VeloNation in the near future.

At this point in time, there’s clearly a lot of confusion about the Van der Vorst story. Questions include whether or not she was physically paralysed during the past decade and a half, as stated and, if so, why and when that paralysis disappeared.

For Spence, it’s clear what the IPC must determine. “We have to look into whether she legitimately won those two silver medals in Beijing. That’s what our legal and ethics committee are looking at now,” he said. “I am hoping that we will have a decision before the Olympic Games.”


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