Olympic cheating

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

“Given that the Russian Ministry of Sport orchestrated systematic cheating of Russian athletes to subvert the doping control process; and that, the evidence shows such subversion in 30 sports, including 20 Olympic summer sports and Paralympic sports, the presumption of innocence of athletes in these sports, and in all Russian sports, is seriously called into question.”

-McLaren Investigation Report, WADA, July 18, 2016

Playing fields should be level. The same rules should apply to all participants. At the end of the day, the best athlete wins…or not, at least according to the World Anti-Doping Agency. With their report, old wounds are opened for Pamela Selimo, Martin Sundby, Wenxiu Zhang and the many other Olympians in London and Sochi.

Coming fourth by a fraction of a second is painful. No podium, no medal, no media. Punishing the Russian Olympic Federation and even current athletes does not restore the opportunity lost for those who finished fourth to a Russian medalist. Even if medals are reassigned, those who came fourth were denied their place on the podium, representing their country and perhaps hearing their national anthem played for all to hear. Financially, fourth place finishers tend not to be offered endorsements and other financial benefits that arrive on the doorstep of those who wear Olympic gold. Coping fourth hurts.

Demanding that athletes maximize their performance without the use of performance enhancing drugs seems fair and reasonable. The side effects of steroids, HGH, erythropoietin and other stimulants are life threatening. The trickle down to younger and younger age groups is inevitable if it is recognized that success demands the extra drug boost.

How much is that boost? Almost impossible to say but after the release of the WADA report, Martin Sundby might guess that it might be two tenths of a second, the difference between him and three Russians in the 50k cross country ski race in Sochi. Pamela Jelimo might think that it is only six one hundreds of a second, the blink of an eye between her and the Russian who won bronze.

The Olympic ideal of faster, higher, stronger has been under attack in the past many years and Rio may not offer a reprieve with the decertification and closing of Brazil’s testing lab. Once upon a time, an athlete’s reputation mattered and clean play was an expected norm. Perhaps it’s time to inject ethics into our Olympians instead of steroids.

UPDATE

With a little over two weeks to go, WADA announced the reaccreditation of the Rio drug testing lab . It had been closed because of nonconformity with International Standard for Laboratories, but now, it seems that all is well. According to the AP, Olivier Niggle, the director general of WADA was quoted as saying that “athletes can be confident that anti-doping sample analysis has been robust throughout the laboratory’s suspension, and that …the lab would be running “optimally” when the Olympics open.

Fans of the Olympic Games should remember that a false positive test can be devastating to an athlete’s career. Those who don’t indulge in performance enhancing drugs should expect 100% accuracy in their testing.

 

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