Rebecca Chin: Paralympic Classification’s Collateral Damage
Updated: Jul 5, 2019
How being stripped of Paralympic Silver led one of Parasport’s brightest talents to become a World Championship Rower.
It’s 2008 and the crowd inside Beijing’s famous Bird’s Nest stadium have just witnessed a remarkable feat. Rebecca Chin of Great Britain, at the age of just 16 has secured the unlikeliest of Paralympic Silver medals in the Discus F38 category. The youngster broke the World Record on route to the final and was only beaten into second place by a phenomenal performance from Mi Na of China.
The sense that something extraordinary had happened was palpable.
The sense that something extraordinary had happened was palpable. However, awe quickly turned to confusion as Chin failed to appear for the medal ceremony, with Amanda Fraser of Australia who had originally finished third in the event taking Chin’s place on the podium alongside a newly anointed bronze medallist, Li Chunhua of China. Rumours circulated that Chin had been stripped of her win, half-truths which were in eventuality less dramatic, galling and maddening than the truth itself.
After her win, Chin was called into a small room buried deep in the expanse of the Chinese national stadium. What she expected to be a routine drugs test unravelled into an ugly blemish on the Paralympic classification system. Talking to The Telegraph, Chin described the scene in that quiet room far from the roaring crowds "I just thought I was being drug-tested, but it was the classifiers and they told me I'd been declassified directly there and then.” This de-classification stripped her of her Silver medal, and deleted her achievements from the annals of history.
Chin qualified for the GB Paralympic team under the classification of T44. However when she arrived in China was re-classified by IPC endorsed classifiers to the T38 category. Chin competed in the Shotput, finishing tenth, and having her T38 classification upheld. However, directly after her medal winning exploits in the Discus event Chin was told by classifiers that she had shown “significantly different skill sets” and that Chief Classifier had lodged a complaint.
The 16 year old was stripped on her medal and banned from all Paralympic events.
Subsequently the 16 year old was stripped on her medal and banned from all Paralympic events, including the World Championships. An action which performance director for the GB squad Tim Jones described as Chin being "hung out to dry" by the IPC classification system. Chin remained remarkably composed considering the tumult of emotions she must have been experiencing. “I’m obviously disappointed with the outcome but I'm proud to have represented Great Britain at the Paralympic Games.”
Just weeks later, Chin turned her back on Para Sport and joined her local Rowing club, setting her on course to be named in the Women’s Eight for the World Championships in Sarasota, Florida next month. Chin’s impairment relates to hyperlax ligaments in her lower limbs which reduces her efficiency when standing and balancing. Rowing effectively negates her impairment. Chin explains "The fact that rowing is seated means that I don't have any sort of impairment while I'm doing it."
Meanwhile in parasport, almost ten years on from Beijing and the fog of controversy surrounding the Classification process refuses to lift, with Richard Whitehead of Great Britain producing a scathing attack on the IPC to exclude double-leg amputees from the T42 100m event at Tokyo 2020, accusing the governing body of “playing with careers”.
The International Paralympic Committee recognises the task it faces to ensure fair and transparent competition.
Classification is an extremely complex and nuanced process, and is a challenge which no other sport comes remotely close to facing. The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) recognises the task it faces to ensure fair and transparent competition. In the new ‘Summer Sports Strategic Plan’ Classification features heavily, with a commitment to enhance the technical and medical elements of the process, to better train Classifiers and to further professionalise the system.
Ultimately though, in September the Paralympic Family will watch on as one of their own competes in the Rowing World Championships. The sense of ‘the one that got away’ will be unavoidable, as an athlete of Chin’s obvious ability is precisely the type of Para Athlete needed to maintain and build a fanbase hooked by the elite nature of Para Sports competition.
It is undeniable that all actors in the Paralympic system are committed to improving and developing the Classification system.
It is undeniable that all actors in the Paralympic system are committed to improving and developing the Classification system, indeed big strides have been taken, but when Chin steadies herself at the start line of the course at the Nathan Benderson Park it will be a stark reminder of the collateral damage caused by an imperfect system.
Article by Ben O'Rourke for Parasports World
Stay tuned. Parasports World provides parasports news, paralympic sports entertainment and disability sports community. Find great sports and inspiring athletes from the Paralympic Games, the Invictus Games and parasport championships.