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Olympic Officials Elbow Out Wheelchair Racers

DENVER (CN) - Wheelchair racers lost their bid in the 10th Circuit to force the U.S. Olympic Committee to provide the same training and support to disabled athletes gearing up for the Paralympics that it provides to Olympic hopefuls.

Theappeals courtrejected their challenge of the USOC's Athlete Support Program, which provides grants and benefits to aspiring Olympians, including tuition assistance and health insurance. But those benefits are exclusively available to athletes striving to compete in the Olympics or the Pan American Games, even though the Paralympics is included in the mission statement of the federally chartered committee.

A group of wheelchair racers sued the USOC and U.S. Paralympics Inc., claiming they discriminated against disabled athletes and violated the Rehabilitation Act by excluding them from the support program.

Ruling for the committee, the 2-1 majority said the USOC has no obligation to provide the same level of support for competitors in each event. "The policy, on its face, clearly does not contain an explicit requirement of not being disabled," Judge Kelly wrote. The court also noted that the Rehabilitation Act - a variation of the Americans with Disabilities Act - only applies to disabled individuals who are "otherwise qualified" for a benefit, and plaintiffs are not able to compete in the Olympics or Pan Am Games.

"Plaintiffs should seek a remedy with the legislative or executive branches, not the courts," Kelly wrote.

Judge Holloway firmly dissented, arguing that the Act forbids "exactly what has occurred and is occurring here. This defiance of plain legislative intent is crystal-clear from the congressional statement that the Paralympics are 'the Olympics for disabled amateur athletes.'" See ruling.

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