Interview with Janet Zeltinger: “I sincerely hope that the athletes that are under review will be eligible to compete in the Paralympics.”

As part of Rollt.’s continued coverage of the IPC classification situation, Janet Zeltinger (nee McLachlan) spoke with Dylan Cummings to discuss her thoughts on the current circumstances. Sport has always been an integral part of Zeltinger’s life as she has previously played able-bodied basketball and rugby. However, a severe knee injury that she suffered in 2006 prematurely ended her rugby career.

Later that same year, she found wheelchair basketball and immediately became one of the biggest powerhouses in the sport. Her playing career lasted just over a decade, spanning over three Paralympic Games. The major highlight of her career was when Team Canada were crowned World Champions on their home soil of Toronto in 2014.

After hanging up her wheels in 2017, she has become one of the most successful coaches in the game. She is currently appointed as the head coach of RSV Lahn-Dill and the assistant coach of the Germany Senior Women’s National Team.

Her story is a prime example of when tragedy struck in her able-bodied sporting career, she was able to continue being an elite athlete (and coach) by having the opportunity to play wheelchair basketball at the highest level due to her ‘minimal disability.’ Therefore, we (Rollt.) thought it was vitally important that we get her viewpoint on the subject.


As a former player, how do you feel personally about the IPC Eligibility Reassessment Process?

“It is disheartening and extremely frustrating to know that some athletes who have worked so hard for the last four years or more, will be excluded from the Paralympics. The timing is very unfortunate and unfair.”


Can you explain how this situation is affecting your life as a coach?

“As a coach, the circumstances are difficult, but the situation with Corona has in a strange way helped. The athletes who are still under review are in limbo, as is our ability to plan as coaches. We don’t know which athletes we will have in our program going forward. It is extremely difficult for those athletes who are affected, and the rest of the team, to stay motivated to train as they don’t know what the future holds for them. The break with Corona has meant that the athletes are able to spend time with family and friends outside of basketball and have more time for other interests, which is hopefully a nice distraction from what is happening with their classifications.”


A lot of the squad you coach are still under review, how have you and your team staff been supporting the athletes through this difficult time?

“The athletes have been tremendous during this time. I can only imagine how hard it is on them. We have a sport psychologist working with the team and the athletes can speak to him when needed. Our team doctor has been fantastic through this process, as has Martin (Otto.) As coaches, we are there for the athletes if they need anything, but it is very challenging as everyone’s hands are tied.”


How has the current situation affected the mental health of the athletes?

“This isn’t something I can speak about directly, but I can imagine the stress and uncertainty has affected their motivation and other aspects of their lives as well.”


What do you think the fate of the athletes still under review will be?

“I sincerely hope that the athletes that are under review will be eligible to compete in the Paralympics. We have already seen one athlete deemed ineligible and whilst I am trying to stay positive that no more will follow, only time will truly tell.”


What’s your opinion on the IWBF’s and IPC’s handling of the situation?

“This situation definitely could have been handled differently. The timing is terrible. Athletes and teams have worked for four years and some much longer, towards being the best they can be. To have it all thrown up in the air so close to the Games is absurd. At the moment we are just over a year out, but we were supposed to only be a month and a half from the start of the Games. How is that remotely sporting? If the process needs to take place fine but do it after the Games.”


What’s your opinion on David Eng being deemed as ineligible by the IPC?

“The decision to deem David ineligible is tremendously sad. David has trained for years and been a phenomenal ambassador for sport, not just wheelchair basketball. To not give David the opportunity to leave the game he has given so much to on his own terms is decidedly unfair. For David to have his career yanked out from under him right before the Games is ridiculous.”


What do you think is the best possible outcome for this situation?

“The best possible outcome is for the IPC and IWBF to work through those cases still under review as efficiently as possible. I hope that as many players as possible make it through the classification reassessment process and are eligible to play in Tokyo.”


How do you think the lasting effects of this situation will affect the game years down the line?

“It all depends on what happens within the next few weeks and months. If the majority of the athletes still under review are deemed ineligible then it will irrevocably change our sport, and in my opinion not for the better. However, if the majority of the athletes are deemed eligible then I think this will pass as an unfortunately timed event with little overall impact on wheelchair basketball.”


Thanks for your time Janet!


Rollt. would like to thank Janet Zeltinger for the interview.


Janet Zeltinger Profile

Date of Birth: 26/08/1977 (aged 42)

Hometown: Vancouver, British Columbia

Classification: 4.5

Disability: Knee Injury

Started playing: 2006

Senior debut for Canada: 2008 Paralympic Games – Beijing, China

Retired from playing: 2017

Started coaching: 2017

Germany coaching debut: 2017 European Championships – Tenerife, Spain

Current clubs’ you coach:

  • RSV Lahn-Dill, GER (2017-Present)
  • Germany Senior Women’s National Team (2017-Present)

Former clubs you have played for:

  • Edmonton Inferno, CAN (2006-07)
  • British Columbia Breakers, CAN (2007-14)
  • University of Alabama, USA (2008-10)
  • DONECK Dolphins Trier, GER (2010-12, 2013-15)
  • Amicacci Giulianova, ITA (2012-13)
  • Rhine River Rhinos Wiesbaden, GER (2015-17)

Career Highlights:

  • 2008 Paralympic Games – Beijing, China – 5th (Canada)
  • 2009 NWBA Women’s National Championships – Gold (Alabama)
  • 2010 NWBA Women’s National Championships – Gold (Alabama)
  • 2010 World Championships – Birmingham, GB – Bronze (Canada)
  • 2011 Parapan American Games – Guadalajara, Mexico – Silver (Canada)
  • 2012 Paralympic Games – London, GB – 6th (Canada)
  • 2014 CWBL National Championships – Gold (British Columbia Breakers)
  • 2014 Women’s World Championships – Toronto, Canada – Gold (Canada)
  • 2015 Andre Vergauwen Cup – Gold (DONECK Dolphins Trier)
  • 2015 Parapan American Games – Toronto, Canada – Silver (Canada)
  • 2016 Paralympic Games – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – 5th (Canada)
  • 2017 Challenge Cup – Silver (Rhine River Rhinos Wiesbaden)
  • 2017 European Championships – Tenerife, Spain – Silver (Coach: Germany)
  • 2018 Champions League – 4th (Coach: RSV Lahn-Dill)
  • 2018 World Championships – Hamburg, Germany – Bronze (Coach: Germany)
  • 2019 Champions League – Bronze (Coach: RSV Lahn-Dill)
  • 2019 Women’s European Championships – Rotterdam, Netherlands – Bronze (Coach: Germany)


Editor’s note:

To learn more about classification in wheelchair basketball, click this link: Click!

To learn more about the International Standard for Eligible Impairments for the Paralympic Games, click this link: Click! 


Interview: Dylan Cummings | Photo: Steffie Wunderl

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