Science’s march nets dopers, rights Olympic wrongs
After a career of athletic success, Kim Gevaert regretted that her kids weren’t born when she was in her prime and didn’t see the sprinter make history at the Beijing Olympics. A consolation was that the children were on hand eight years later, when their mother’s history was finally put right. Gevaert and her teammates from Belgium’s sprint relay squad in 2008 are among the first beneficiaries of what is quickly becoming the biggest rewriting of Olympic history. The story, for kids at least, is tricky to grasp, as Gevaert discovered when she tried explaining in September to her seven-, five- and three-year olds why a sternlooking man in a dark suit had just hung an Olympic gold medal around her neck, even though she retired years ago, in a packed Brussels stadium with an ecstatic crowd.
But really, it’s simple: Dozens of medals that drug cheats won in Beijing, and again four years later in London, are finding their way to rightful owners, Gevaert included, thanks to an International Olympic Committee crackdown on dopers who escaped detection in 2008 and 2012 but are now being caught by advances in the science of drug testing.
Taken out of storage and reanalyzed, urine samples from those games are now proving positive for anabolic steroids and other banned performance-enhancers that labs couldn’t spot at the time. So far, the nearly 1,400 retests have caught 98 athletes. Disqualifications started as a drip, with the IOC first announcing in June 2015 that open-water swimmer Olga Beresnyeva of Ukraine was being stripped of her seventh place in London because retests found she used the banned bloodbooster EPO.
They have since swelled to a torrent. In the last four months, after reanalyzing their samples, the IOC has ordered 17 medal winners from Beijing — which has now lost more medalists to doping than any other games — and nine from London to hand back their golds, silvers and bronzes. More are expected to follow as the retesting continues and expands to samples from the 2014 Sochi Games, the IOC’s medical director, Richard Budgett, told The Associated Press in a phone interview.
“It’s both a wonderful story but a very sad story at the same time,” Budgett said. “Because those athletes who should have got medals have had to wait an incredibly long time.”
“At least, in the end, justice has been done,” he added. “It will be good for the deterrence of future cheaters.”
Those caught include Yulia Chermoshanskaya, the anchor runner for Russia in women’s sprint relay in Beijing. She and her teammates were stripped of gold after two anabolic steroids, stanozolol and turinabol, were found in Chermoshanskaya’s urine reanalyzed this year. Tests can now detect if athletes used the drugs weeks before competing. Previously, the detection window was mere days.
That bumped the silver medalists — Gevaert, Olivia Borlee, Hanna Marien and Elodie Ouedraogo — to first place. The first Belgian women ever to medal on an Olympic track will never know how they would have felt had they, not the Russians, stood on top of the podium in Beijing and heard their anthem play. But they got, albeit belatedly, the next best thing: a rousing ceremony and standing ovation at a track meet in Brussels’ King Baudouin Stadium on Sept. 9. Gevaert’s kids were in the 40,000-strong crowd and saw her and her teammates, all wearing golden tops, be driven around in an open-top vintage car and former IOC President Jacques Rogge hang the medals around their necks.
“They were able to be part of a very special moment in my career,” Gevaert, who retired shortly after Beijing, said.
“The stadium was full, the crowd was very enthusiastic,” she added. “They made it a fabulous occasion. Even after eight years, it was a magical moment.”
The reallocation of medals isn’t automatic. To make sure that they’re not handing medals from one doper to another, the IOC is also retesting the samples of athletes who are next in line. Dina Sazanovets, for example, placed fourth in her 69-kilogram weightlifting category in London but won’t get the bronze stripped from her Belarusian teammate Marina Shkermankova, because retests found steroids in both of their samples. The Belgian sprinters’ samples, on the other hand, were negative when retested, Pierre-Olivier Beckers-Vieujant, head of the Belgium Olympic Committee, said in a phone interview. TRIANGLE SPONSORS Anonymous, A. Alport and Sons, Always Moving & Storage, Inc., Arold Construction Co., Inc., B&B Bagels, Berardi, Gottstine & Miller, CPAS’s, Inc., Binnewater, Black Mt. Golf Club, Catskill Golf Club, Colonial Roofing and Siding, Hurley Mt. Inn, Carey Plumbing and Heating, Catskill Hudson Bank, Committee to Elect Philip Kirschner, Committee to Elect Nina Postupack, D&J Distributors, Dallas Hot Weiners, Bill DeCicco & Sons, Francis Flynn, CPA, Frank Guidos Little Italy Restaurant, Gilpatrick-VanVliet, Fiends of Mike Hein, Steve Hakim Asset Mgmt. LLC, J&H Tire and Auto Center/First Place Tire and Auto Center, JK’s Wine & Liquor, Keyser Funeral & Cremation Services, Lazy Swan Golf Club, Lazy Swan Golf Club, N&S Supply, Inc. Postupack Valuation, Inc., Millbrook Golf & Tennis Club, Rondout Golf Club, Saratoga National Golf Club, Santa Fe’ Restaurant, Savonna’s Plaza Pizza, Schneider’s Jewelers, Inc., Scott Dutton Associates, LLC, Spinneweber PFV, In Memory of R. Daniel Teetsel, Dwight “Ike” Teetsel and Rebecca J. Teetsel, Timely Signs, Twaalfskill Golf Club, Ulster Federal Credit Union, Ulster Hose Co. #5, WCD Window Coverings, Woodstock Golf Club