POSTED: May 25th 2016

JOHN GOODBODY: Cheated Olympic medallists never get their moment in the sun

British runner Andrew Steele left © Getty Images
British runner Andrew Steele left © Getty Images

THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) The names of the 14 Russian competitors, whose samples from the Beijing Olympics have been re-analysed, are the first of a tranche of 31 athletes from 12 countries to be identified. According to Tass, the Russians include several medallists, including two members of the quartet who were second in the women's 4 x 400 metres relay, as well as Anna Chicherova, high jump bronze medallist in 2008 and gold medallist in 2012, and Maria Abakumova, second in the javelin and the 2011 world champion.

Of course, according to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), a further 17 competitors have also failed tests -and it has yet to announce the results of any re-analysis of 2012 specimens. Yet the proportion of Russians already to have returned positive results, compared to those athletes from the rest of the world, is striking. And it gives further ammunition to those, who believe that the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) should ensure that Russia does not take part in the Rio Olympics, when its Council votes on June 17 whether to maintain its ban.

Several competitors, who were cheated of their glory in 2008 and 2012, will finally have medals awarded to them, after the 'B' samples are also re-analysed (strictly speaking a positive in an 'A' sample is only an 'adverse finding') and the names of the guilty athletes are officially announced.  However, this reallocation of medals provides only minor compensation.

However much the authorities now try to dress up any medal ceremony, it cannot begin to make up for the moment, eight years ago, when the athletes would have received their medals as their due reward for their efforts during the Games. The sense of satisfaction, the publicity, the national and, sometimes international, acclaim, are not the same as they would have been in Beijing in 2008. These competitors have been deprived of their moment in the sun.

Yes, the record books will be rewritten but that is for sporting aficionados. Few members of the public, the vast majority of whom watch on television, will be able in their mind's eye to reinstate the competitor in his or her rightful place. They probably cannot even visualise the event.

One of the athletes, who was affected by the Russian men's 4x400 relay team taking third place in Beijing, was Andrew Steele, a member of the British quartet, who were fourth, only 0.75 seconds behind a Russian team in which the third runner Denis Alekseyev has now been found to have had an 'adverse finding.'

Steele was quoted by The Times of London as saying that his life might well have altered if he had won a bronze medal in 2008, saying that if the sample of Alekseyev is confirmed as a positive, he will feel a mix of "anger, frustration and happiness. I'd love to call myself an Olympic medallist but I would have loved to have done so eight years ago. Your career and form in athletics hinge so much on these small changes in trajectory and that difference between fourth and third place could have changed an awful lot for me."

As Steele pointed out, both sponsorship and support from the national federation would have been available between 2008 and 2012. Instead, he put himself into a lot of financial difficulty in paying for medical bills, physiotherapy and warm-weather training and this resulted in him contracting glandular fever and rupturing his Achilles tendon in the build-up to the London Olympics.

Now he is a successful agent and represents Greg Rutherford, the Olympic, world, Commonwealth and European long jump champion. However, he is well entitled to think what might have been through no fault of his own. And he is not alone. The cheats have much to answer for.

** 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.  

Keywords · Olympics · doping · John Goodbody · Beijing 2008

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