“We spent over 12 months gathering as much evidence as possible on the matter to ascertain and understand all aspects of the case."
The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) has finished looking in to the case of the Dutch para-cyclist Monique van der Vorst, a winner of two handcycling silver medals at the Beijing 2008 Paralympics, and concluded there is no need for any action to be taken against the athlete.
Following an accident in March 2010, van der Vorst was quoted in various media outlets saying that she had experienced a ‘miraculous’ recovery and had started to feel tingling sensations in her paralysed limbs. By July of that year she was able to start walking again.
As a consequence of some of the quotes attributed to the athlete in the media, the IPC decided to look into her case to determine whether she had intentionally misrepresented her impairment during her Paralympic career.
When contacted by the IPC, van der Vorst provided a comprehensive and clear picture of her story.
Peter Van de Vliet, IPC Medical & Scientific Director, said: “As the global governing body of the Paralympic Movement and the owner of the Paralympic Games, it is the IPC’s duty to look into cases such as this, especially considering the extraordinary facts and statements that were presented in the media by the athlete.
“We spent over 12 months gathering as much evidence as possible on the matter to ascertain and understand all aspects of the case.
“Over the course of her Paralympic career Monique presented for classification on several occasions with supportive medical evidence of muscular dystrophy and pain-related clinical manifestation. On this basis she was allocated a sport class to compete in handcycling.
“Only in late 2012 did the Head of the Spinal Cord Injury Unit at the Amsterdam Centre for Rheumatology and Rehabilitation diagnose her with Conversion Disorder.”
Conversion disorder is considered a psychiatric disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition, and can cause people to suffer from neurological symptoms, such as numbness, blindness, paralysis, or fits without a definable organic cause. It is thought that symptoms arise in response to stressful situations affecting a patient's mental health, however no concrete evidence has been found that proves episodes of conversion are not symptoms of an underlying organic cause.
Peter Van de Vliet added: “Decisions on her classification were made on the basis of the available medical documentation at the time, although post career a more conclusive diagnosis was made on the athlete.
“The IPC accepts therefore that Monique did not deliberately misrepresent her impairment when subject to classification evaluation on a number of occasions during her para-cycling career.”
The IPC has confirmed that following the closure of this case it will be looking for classification panels to increase their efforts to verify underlying impairment types, in particular when clinical manifestation is confounded by pain. Athletes and their support staff also are reminded to disclose full medical diagnostic information prior to presenting for classification.