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‘Give adaptive athletes a level playing field’

World-leading adaptive athlete calls for fairness after being denied win in major global event through rule change

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A former soldier who has become a world-leading adaptive athlete after being paralysed during a charity bike ride has called for greater fairness and transparency in adaptive sport, after a rule change in a recent tournament saw him robbed of first place.

Tom Green won his category in the recent Wodcelona event, which attracts adaptive athletes from around the world, and follows his fourth-place finish in last year’s WheelWod Games – hailed as the pinnacle event globally for adaptive fitness.

But although Tom won his Seated 2 Male category – a category medics argue he should not be in, due to his lack of hip function – low numbers in the equivalent female category meant the male and female results were combined.

That meant Tom – a former physical training instructor (PTI) in the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers – was awarded a second-place finish, and one of his fellow competitors, who finished third in the male category, was no longer entitled to a podium finish.

In protest, Tom handed back his medal to Wodcelona organisers. While they have since assured him they have learnt from this situation, Tom believes that it must be seen to be an open and fair competition to encourage others into adaptive fitness.

“Adaptive sport is a growing area and I really want to see more people compete – but I don’t think things like this will inspire them at all,” says Tom, who was paralysed from the waist down after being hit from behind by a truck during a 100-mile charity cycle ride.

“I was in first place at Wodcelona and was watching the leaderboard all weekend, and I finished in first place. But because there were only two competitors in the Seated 2 Female category, they decided to join it together with the male category.

“Clearly, a female will have less points as they have different workouts and theirs is a totally different category – and then the results have a knock-on effect for everyone in the male category. Not just for me, but for my fellow competitor who finished third, but then was told he no longer had a podium finish.

“They deserve their recognition; they have earned it. I handed back my medal for that reason, because they have worked hard for this, and it has been taken away.

“Another competitor in my category is someone I train, and he has come on so much. He just missed out on a podium in the end – but for someone like him, who is so close to getting a top three place, rule changes like what happened at Wodcelona are not going to motivate him at all.

“If they are low on numbers, it would make more sense to combine the female Seated 1 and Seated 2 categories, rather than combine it with the male category.

“They should be kept completely separate.”

Tom, who has been supported by Breakthrough Case Management since his spinal cord injury in summer 2020, was told he would never be able to walk again – but has continued to surpass all expectations, with his rehab team continually amazed at the progress he is making.

“What happened with the placings at Wodcelona was clearly unfair,” says Annabelle Lofthouse, Tom’s case manager at Breakthrough.

“However, I was unsurprised by Tom’s decision to hand back his medal. As well as being a completely dedicated athlete, Tom is an incredibly principled man, and this is just so characteristic of him. He really is raising the profile of adaptive fitness in every way he can.”

His venture into adaptive sport has been hailed as “superhuman”, and Tom now has his sights set on the CrossFit Games 2024 in Texas, which combine both mainstream and adaptive competitions to name the world’s top athletes in their respective fields.

“Next year, they’ve promised to try and get all the adaptive categories into the Games, so my focus has shifted to that. I’m not going to compete in anything else this year, I’m concentrating on the qualifying rounds and then hopefully the actual Games,” he says.

“That is the biggest challenge there is, it’s the Mecca for me as an adaptive athlete, so that’s what my sights are set on.”

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