Paralympic champ to cover Olympic rings tattoo, hopes rule changes

Rudy Garcia-Tolson
Getty Images

At age 15, Rudy Garcia-Tolson had a deal with his mom. If he qualified for the Athens 2004 Games, he could get a tattoo of the Olympic rings.

Garcia-Tolson made it to Greece and even earned a 200m individual medley swimming gold medal. He inked the rings, in color, on the back of his left shoulder.

And if Garcia-Tolson competes at his fourth straight Paralympics in September, he is ready to tape over the tattoo to keep from being disqualified in Rio.

A rule not allowing body advertisements that has started to be fully enforced in recent years made headlines two weeks ago, when a British Paralympic swimmer was disqualified from a European Championships race for not covering up his Olympic rings tattoo.

It has led to explanations clarifying that the Olympics and Paralympics are two very separate events.

“I fully feel like I’m an Olympian,” Garcia-Tolson said last week at an event for one of his sponsors, Citi, in New York.

Technically, Garcia-Tolson is not an Olympian. He is a Paralympian. Garcia-Tolson’s Twitter bio lists the word “Olympic” three times  and “Paralympic” zero times.

An International Paralympic Committee swimming rule states, “body advertisements are not allowed in any way whatsoever (this includes tattoos and symbols).”

“I don’t really agree with it, but it’s the rules, so we’re just going to have to go with it,” Garcia-Tolson said as the famous “Olympic Fanfare and Theme” music played in the auditorium following his presentation with three-time Olympic beach volleyball champion Kerri Walsh Jennings. “I’m going to follow the rules. I don’t want to put all this hard work in and then get disqualified for something I have on my body.”

If people attend the Paralympics, which are held weeks after the Olympics at the same venues, they will very often see the Paralympic Agitos logo where the Olympic logo once appeared.

It is visual proof that the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee are separate entities.

“This rule is in place because the IPC wants Paralympic athletes to show pride in promoting the Paralympic Movement, including its symbol the Agitos,” an IPC spokesman said in an email. “Displaying the Olympic rings confuses the public and impacts the understanding about the Paralympic brand which is different to that of the Olympic one.”

The rule was first in place for all sports at the London 2012 Paralympics, but it wasn’t strictly enforced, according to the International Paralympic Committee.

In London, Garcia-Tolson said he covered up his Olympic rings tattoo with marker, but by the time he jumped into the pool to try and win his third straight 200m IM title, it had worn off. The Olympic rings were clearly visible, but he wasn’t disqualified and kept his silver medal.

“That was kind of unintentional, but at the same time I feel like that’s who I am,” Garcia-Tolson said.

Garcia-Tolson said he’s considered getting a tattoo of the Paralympic Agitos symbol, but the Paralympic logo has changed at least twice during his life.

On his team of Paralympians, Garcia-Tolson said the standard rule is, if you earn a gold medal, a reward is to get the Olympic rings tattoo.

“We feel like we should be treated no differently than our Olympic teammates,” he said. “The title, the names, to me it’s just kind of unimportant. Who’s to say in 20 years we don’t have the same logo [as the Olympics].”

Garcia-Tolson has no problem adhering to the rule and emphasized he embraces the Paralympic movement.

“The world needs motivation right now,” Garcia-Tolson said. “It needs to be inspired. I think that’s where the Paralympics comes in.”

But, he added, rules are meant to be changed.

“I’m sure this one will be changed here in the next few Games or so,” he said.

MORE: Rio Paralympic torch unveiled

IOC recommends how Russia, Belarus athletes can return as neutrals

Thomas Bach

The IOC updated its recommendations to international sports federations regarding Russian and Belarusian athletes, advising that they can return to competitions outside of the Olympics as neutral athletes in individual events and only if they do not actively support the war in Ukraine. Now, it’s up to those federations to decide if and how they will reinstate the athletes as 2024 Olympic qualifying heats up.

The IOC has not made a decision on the participation of Russian or Belarusian athletes for the Paris Games and will do so “at the appropriate time,” IOC President Thomas Bach said Tuesday.

Most international sports federations for Olympic sports banned Russian and Belarusian athletes last year following IOC recommendations to do so after the invasion of Ukraine.

Bach was asked Tuesday what has changed in the last 13 months that led to the IOC updating its recommendations.

He reiterated previous comments that, after the invasion and before the initial February 2022 recommendations, some governments refused to issue visas for Russians and Belarusians to compete, and other governments threatened withdrawing funding from athletes who competed against Russians and Belarusians. He also said the safety of Russians and Belarusians at competitions was at risk at the time.

Bach said that Russians and Belarusians have been competing in sports including tennis, the NHL and soccer (while not representing their countries) and that “it’s already working.”

“The question, which has been discussed in many of these consultations, is why should what is possible in all these sports not be possible in swimming, table tennis, wrestling or any other sport?” Bach said.

Bach then read a section of remarks that a United Nations cultural rights appointee made last week.

“We have to start from agreeing that these states [Russia and Belarus] are going to be excluded,” Bach read, in part. “The issue is what happens with individuals. … The blanket prohibition of Russian and Belarusian athletes and artists cannot continue. It is a flagrant violation of human rights. The idea is not that we are going to recognize human rights to people who are like us and with whom we agree on their actions and on their behavior. The idea is that anyone has the right not to be discriminated on the basis of their passport.”

The IOC’s Tuesday recommendations included not allowing “teams of athletes” from Russia and Belarus to return.

If Russia continues to be excluded from team sports and team events, it could further impact 2024 Olympic qualification.

The international basketball federation (FIBA) recently set an April 28 deadline to decide whether to allow Russia to compete in an Olympic men’s qualifying tournament. For women’s basketball, the draw for a European Olympic qualifying tournament has already been made without Russia.

In gymnastics, the ban has already extended long enough that, under current rules, Russian gymnasts cannot qualify for men’s and women’s team events at the Paris Games, but can still qualify for individual events if the ban is lifted.

Gymnasts from Russia swept the men’s and women’s team titles in Tokyo, where Russians in all sports competed for the Russian Olympic Committee rather than for Russia due to punishment for the nation’s doping violations. There were no Russian flags or anthems, conditions that the IOC also recommends for any return from the current ban for the war in Ukraine.

Seb Coe, the president of World Athletics, said last week that Russian and Belarusian athletes remain banned from track and field for the “foreseeable future.”

World Aquatics, the international governing body for swimming, diving and water polo, said after the IOC’s updated recommendations that it will continue to “consider developments impacting the situation” of Russian and Belarusian athletes and that “further updates will be provided when appropriate.”

The IOC’s sanctions against Russia and Belarus and their governments remain in place, including disallowing international competitions to be held in those countries.

On Monday, Ukraine’s sports minister said in a statement that Ukraine “strongly urges” that Russian and Belarusian athletes remain banned.

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Summer McIntosh breaks 400m freestyle world record, passes Ledecky, Titmus

Summer McIntosh

Summer McIntosh broke the women’s 400m freestyle world record at Canada’s swimming trials on Tuesday night, becoming at 16 the youngest swimmer to break a world record in an Olympic program event since Katie Ledecky a decade ago.

McIntosh clocked 3 minutes, 56.08 seconds in Toronto. Australian Ariarne Titmus held the previous record of 3:56.40, set last May. Before that, Ledecky held the record since 2014, going as low as 3:56.46.

“Going into tonight, I didn’t think the world record was a possibility, but you never know,” McIntosh, who had quotes from Ledecky on her childhood bedroom wall, said in a pool-deck interview moments after the race.

McIntosh’s previous best time was 3:59.32 from last summer’s Commonwealth Games. She went into Tuesday the fourth-fastest woman in history behind Titmus, Ledecky and Italian Federica Pellegrini.

She is also the third-fastest woman in history in the 400m individual medley and the 11th-fastest in the 200m butterfly, two events she won at last June’s world championships. She is the world junior record holder in those events, too.

MORE: McIntosh chose swimming and became Canada’s big splash

McIntosh, Titmus and Ledecky could go head-to-head-to-head in the 400m free at the world championships in July and at the 2024 Paris Olympics. Titmus is the reigning Olympic champion. Ledecky is the reigning world champion, beating McIntosh by 1.24 seconds last June while Titmus skipped the meet.

The last time the last three world record holders in an Olympic program event met in the final of a major international meet was the 2012 Olympic men’s 100m breaststroke (Brendan Hansen, Kosuke Kitajima, Brenton Rickard).

Ledecky, whose best events are the 800m and 1500m frees, broke her first world record in 2013 at 16 years and 4 months old.

McIntosh is 16 years and 7 months old and trains in Sarasota, Florida, which is 160 miles down Interstate 75 from Ledecky in Gainesville.

McIntosh, whose mom swam at the 1984 Olympics and whose sister competed at last week’s world figure skating championships, is the youngest individual world champion in swimming since 2011.

In 2021, at age 14, she became the youngest swimmer to race an individual Olympic final since 2008, according to She was fourth in the 400m free at the Tokyo Games.

NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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