JOHN GOODBODY: Russia - the cesspit of international drug-taking
THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications
(SFC) Because of the continuing fascination with the confessions of cyclist Lance Armstrong, the eyes of many people in sport have been diverted from another equally disturbing and even more widespread drugs scandal. This has emerged from Russia across a range of activities but particularly in athletics, just as Moscow is preparing to stage the World Championships this year.
Five weeks ago, Peter Eriksson, Britain’s new head coach, questioned why as many as 33 Russian athletes were serving bans for doping offences and suggested that there should be greater investigation into what was happening in the country, a super-powers in the sport.
One of the many competitors affected by the series of suspensions is the Briton Jenny Meadows, who lost the 2011 European Indoors 800 metres title to Yevgenia Zinurova, who was subsequently suspended for doping. Although Meadows was upgraded to the gold medallist, the defeat had another disappointing consequence. She decided that to defeat Zinurova at the London Olympics, she had to increase her mileage over the following winter and this probably resulted in her damaging an Achilles tendon and missing the London Games.
Another British athlete, long jumper Jade Johnson, felt strongly about the extent of the doping in Russia, not least because Tatyana Kotova, who beat her to the 2002 European title, was later found to have taken performance-enhancing substances. Johnson made the drastic suggestion that Moscow should not host the championships this year because countries need to take responsibility for what their own athletes are doing.
Several of the Russian athletes have been caught seven years after the relevant event. Why seven years? Because there is a statute of limitation of eight years on retrospective testing and therefore just before the cut-off period, the samples are re-examined, using the most recent scientific methods and equipment, which have become available in the intervening period.
Both Kotova and hammer-thrower Olga Kuzenkova, who won the title at the 2005 world championships in Helsinki, were caught after their specimens were retested this year. However, Kuzenkova will retain her Olympic title because her sample dates from 2005.
However, another Russian shot putter Svetlana Krivelyova, whose sample dates from the 2004 Olympics, will lose her bronze medal from Athens, although she will retain her 1992 gold medal because she was not found positive at those Barcelona Games. In fact, Krivelyova, who had finished fourth in the competition enterprisingly staged in the Ancient Olympia stadium, only came third because fellow Russian Irina Khorzhanenko, who had dominated the event, lost her title when she was found positive for stanozolol, the anabolic steroid, and Krivelyova was therefore upgraded.
Just behind Krivelyova in 2004 was the Belarussian Nadzeya Ostapchuk. She was stripped of her shot put title in London in 2012 because of doping and following the re-testing of the 2005 World Championships samples, she will lose that title as well.
What a mess. And the problem with retrospective testing and any suspension of athletes is that often, as in the cases of Krivelyova and Kuzenkova, the guilty athletes involved may have retired. They may lose their titles but materially they will hardly be affected.
The time is surely coming when international and domestic federations should keep back a proportion of any prize money awarded to competitors until the eight years have elapsed so that, if necessary, the money can be forfeited. In this way, guilty competitors can be financially penalised, years after their original offence. It is no more than they deserved.
** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2012 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 12th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.
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