Special Olympics: Swim fast, just not 20 per cent faster

Singapore's Siau Ek Jin, swimming in the 4x50m relay at the Special Olympics Singapore National Games the previous Sunday. Her relay quartet clocked 3min 27.46sec, but they were later disqualified for setting a time 20 per cent faster than their entr
Singapore's Siau Ek Jin, swimming in the 4x50m relay at the Special Olympics Singapore National Games the previous Sunday. Her relay quartet clocked 3min 27.46sec, but they were later disqualified for setting a time 20 per cent faster than their entry time.ST FILE PHOTO

Spotlight on rule to ensure fair play following Special Olympics S'pore National Games

Para-swimmer Danielle Moi and her 4x50m freestyle relay team-mates from Metta School were the second quartet to finish their race at the Special Olympics Singapore National Games.

But after they touched the wall in 3min 29.55sec, they found out that they had been disqualified - for swimming too fast.

Their time in the May 21 race was more than 20 per cent quicker than their seeded time of 5:00.47.

While the 17-year-old said she was initially surprised and disappointed with the disqualification, she understood the rationale of the long-standing Special Olympics rule after being educated about it.

She said: "It was new to me, but I understand it now. Yes, what's the point of competing if we shouldn't go our fastest to win?

"But at the same time, it would not be a fair chance for those who have lower abilities than us (in the same race) if our difference in standards is too big."

COUNTER-INTUITIVE BUT FAIR RULE

What's the point of competing if we shouldn't go our fastest to win? But at the same time, it would not be a fair chance for those who have lower abilities than us...

DANIELLE MOI, swimmer whose relay team was disqualified.

To ensure that athletes with similar competitive abilities are grouped together, all athletes had to submit a time or a score before the start of the May 19-21 Games.

The three-day meet brought together 650 athletes with intellectual disabilities from six South-east Asian countries to compete across seven sports. Schools and organisations could revise and update their athletes' times up to three weeks before the start of the meet.

The participants would be disqualified if their performance result was more than 20 per cent better than what they had submitted. This was based on the projected assumption that it was impossible for an athlete to improve by that margin in such a short period of time.

This issue came to light last week because the grandmother of a 15-year-old autistic boy who had competed in the Games complained to Chinese-language newspaper Lianhe Wanbao.

The 68-year-old said her grandson had been disqualified in two races (the 50m and 100m freestyle) because he had breached the rule, and did not know why he had been disqualified.

Danielle, her team-mates and the teen boy were not the only athletes disqualified at these Games but it is not known how many in total had their results invalidated.

TAKING ATHLETES' CONCERNS INTO ACCOUNT

If a student who has mild intellectual disability runs with a student who has Down syndrome, it's demoralising for the child who has lower abilities.

AN UNNAMED TEACHER, emphasising the need for the accurate grouping of competitors at the Special Olympics Singapore National Games.

Such disqualifications are not new. At the Special Olympics World Winter Games in March, ESPN reported that 51 out of 248 athletes were disqualified in the snowshoe event for breaching the maximum-effort rule.

Dr Teo-Koh Sock Miang, president of Special Olympics Singapore, defended the local Games' disqualifications, saying: "This is an international rule. It is meant to create an equal and fair playing field for the athletes.

"If a swimmer clocks a time that is more than 20 per cent faster than his submitted timing, then it would not have been fair to place him in the same race as other swimmers who have lower abilities.

"The schools and organisations were clearly told that they need to re-submit any improvements in their athletes' performances to ensure accurate divisioning."

A teacher from one of the participating schools verified that they had been informed of the rules and regulations repeatedly before the start of the competition.

She said: "That's why we are careful and we make sure all our students and coaches know about this.

"If a student who has mild intellectual disability runs with a student who has Down syndrome, it's demoralising for the child who has lower abilities. The responsibility falls on the teachers to submit and update the timings."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 29, 2017, with the headline 'Swim fast, just not 20% faster'. Print Edition | Subscribe