Games frustration leaves Tom out in the Cole-d

MEDALLIST: Tom Cole
MEDALLIST: Tom Cole
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WHEN double-gold medal holder Tom Cole is spotted training tirelessly at Haverhill Leisure Centre people are quick to wish him luck for 2012.

But instead of a rush of excitement and sense of pride at the mention of the Paralympic Games, their message only sparks feelings of frustration and anguish in the 22-year-old.

Like them, Down’s Syndrome European record holder Cole, of Great Waldingfield, near Sudbury, will be sat in front of the television watching on, robbed of the once-in-a-lifetime chance to compete in his home country on the world’s biggest stage.

A decision by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) to continually not recognise Down’s Syndrome as a stand-out disability category means Cole falls into a classification which doesn’t take into account his physical disabilities and would have next to no chance of getting qualification times for.

The decision to place Down’s Syndrome competitors in an S14 category, which only covers learning disabilities – having an IQ less than 75, is one which his mother Barbara has branded “discrimination” and lost hope of convincing the IPC to change their minds after several failed campaigns involving lobbying MPs.

“I feel very bitter about it,” she said. “Physically there are things wrong as well as a low IQ and I cannot see how an IQ would affect swimming.

“I do not know why the IPC do not recognise it when it is a disability you can diagnose before birth.”

She added: “We are gutted and every Down’s Syndrome swimmer in Great Britain feels the same.

“When you go to the World Down’s Championships no-one works harder than them, it is so sad.”

Low muscle-tone, being shorter and suffering from breathing difficulties are all things Down’s Syndrome sufferers have to contend with in the pool against their able-bodied competitors when it comes to the Paralympics in its current format.

And Phil Ward, a West Suffolk Swimming Club coach who has worked with Cole along with his regular coach Pat Jason at Haverhill, said it is simply not fair.

“S14s they classify as having no physical disability but I disagree,” he said. “I think there is a case for having a separate classification for that condition.

“I do not think it is a level playing field, you could be very strong and fit and healthy and have a low IQ and people like Tom would not stand a chance.”

Cole, who works in Marks and Spencer in Bury St Edmunds, won his two gold medals at the World Down’s Championships in Taiwan in October in the 400m and 800m freestyle.

He also won silver in the 200m individual medley and the 200m backstroke and was the only member of the GB team to win gold.

The championships, which featured athletes from 28 countries, still remains Cole’s biggest stage to exhibit his talents, with the next chance not coming until November 2012 in Italy.

Cole, who learned to swim under Haverhill Leisure Centre’s Swim Scheme, lost his world record for 400m individual medley in Taiwan but still holds five European records; in the 200m individual medley, 200m backstroke, 200m breaststroke, 200m freestyle, 400m freestyle and 800m freestyle.

A spokesman for the IPC said Down’s Syndrome athletes were a “very small group of people” that it would not be realistic for them to cater for with their own classification.

He said classification had to be done by primary impairment, which, in the case of Down’s Syndrome, was deemed to be intellectual.

“We are driven by primary impairment and in the case of Downs it (physical) is a secondary impairment,” he said. “Athletes are not classified by syndrome or specific impairment but by how the impairment relates to activity.”

Paralympics GB declined to comment on the issue.