Clean Olympians deserve a proper medal ceremony
Adam Nelson received his Olympic gold medal in the food court at Atlanta’s airport. Now, let’s give him - and all other clean athletes the recognition they deserve. As more startling revelations came out Friday in the Russian doping scandal and an almost daily lineup of cheating athletes are nabbed through improved testing methods, the International Olympic Committee needs to send a symbolic but powerful message that it will honor those who do things the right way.
No matter how long it takes. Starting with the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang and the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo, the IOC should hold official medal ceremonies for those athletes who were cheated out of their glory because competitors were taking performance-enhancing drugs.
We’re talking about actual ceremonies, in the arena or stadium where their sport is being held, complete with a podium and flowers and flags and national anthems, with thousands of fans cheering them on and billions from around the world watching on television.
For Nelson, that would mean awarding him a gold medal in Tokyo that he actually won in the shot put 16 years earlier, on the fields of Ancient Olympia at the 2004 Athens Games. It won’t begin to make up for what he lost. But it’s a good start.
“Anything they could do to recognize the athletes that were robbed of the moment would certainly go a long way toward repairing some of the damage that was done,” Nelson said when reached by phone, not long after the release of a sickening report further detailing systematic doping in Russia that involved more than 1,000 athletes across more than 30 sports.
The IOC has taken baby steps to address this enormous stain on fair competition, most notably storing the doping samples it takes at each Olympics so they can be tested up to 10 years later using enhanced techniques that weren’t available at the time.
Nelson is one of those who benefited, but he’s hardly alone. So far, a total of 88 athletes from the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2012 London Games have turned up positive when further testing was conducted - more than half of them medalists, including five gold medalists. The IOC says ominously that many more positive tests are still expected from the retesting of those 4-year-old samples.
DESERVE EVEN MORE
All of this has led to a massive re-writing of the official results, and a redistribution of medals to athletes who were clean. They deserve even more. Think of those who initially finished outside the top three. They were denied a chance to step onto the podium, have a medal hung around their neck by a dignitary, watch proudly as their country’s flag was raised above the arena. Those who received a belated gold lost out on the playing of their national anthem, a ritual that often brings tears to even the biggest stars. All of this is easily rectified. Bring them to the next Olympics. The IOC has no firm rules governing exactly how athletes should be awarded their reassigned medals. It leaves that up to the national Olympic committees, recommending that they invite dignitaries and the media and play the Olympic anthem.
Four Belgium women who were bumped up to gold in a 2008 track and field relay after the Russian runner tested positive got a rousing ceremony and standing ovation from a 40,000strong crowd during a meet in Brussels three months ago.
For others, the medal handover wasn’t nearly so glamorous. Nelson settled for silver at the 2004 Athens Olympics , only to learn more than eight years later than the competitor who beat him, Yuriy Bilonog of the Ukraine, had been caught doping by a later round of testing.
The IOC asked Nelson to return his silver medal before he received the gold. Rightfully skeptical, he refused to give up what he had until he got what was rightfully his. Finally, in what sounds like a hostage exchange, an arrangement was made in July 2013 with the US Olympic Committee.— AP
BRUSSELS: In this Sept. 9, 2016, file photo, Belgian runners Kim Gevaert, Elodie Ouedraogo, Olivia Borlee and Hanna Marien stand on the podium after receiving the gold medal for the Women’s 4 x 100 meters relay at the 2008 Beijing Olympics during the Diamond League Memorial Van Damme athletics event at the King Baudouin stadium in Brussels. The Belgian team, initially winning silver, were moved up to gold after one runner on the Russian team tested positive for a banned substance. — AP