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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Paralympic athletes sue Olympic committee

Advertiser News Services

Three Paralympic athletes filed a federal discrimination lawsuit in Denver against the U.S. Olympic Committee yesterday, saying the organization gives better benefits to Olympic athletes and violates disabilities law.

Wheelchair athletes Scot Hollonbeck of Atlanta, Tony Inguez of Aurora, Ill., and former Hawai'i resident Jacob Heilveil of Bothell, Wash., say the USOC should be giving Paralympians the same health insurance, grants, living expense stipends and opportunities as Olympians.

Hollonbeck said the United States fell from winning the most medals in the 1996 Paralympics to finishing fifth at the 2000 games.

"There are some wonderful people at the USOC but they have been treating us unfairly. We've exhausted all our other alternatives and that is why we filed the suit," Hollonbeck said.

The suit seeks unspecified compensatory damages.

The lawsuit alleges the USOC isn't complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. It also says the organization hasn't held up its end of a marketing contract with Vie Sports Marketing, which Hollonbeck helped form after the USOC decided to separate the Paralympics into a single brand in 2000.

Jeff Benz, general counsel for the USOC, said Vie had been paid more than $400,000 and failed to sign a single sponsorship.

"What this case is all about is money for Scot Hollonbeck and Vie Sports," Benz said. He said federal law does not require that as much money be spent on Paralympians as on Olympians.

"They still haven't provided us with a copy of their complaint so it is hard to respond precisely," Benz said.

The main focus of the lawsuit is financing for Paralympians. The USOC spends $3.75 million annually and about 3 percent of its quadrennial budget of $491.5 million on its Paralympic program.