If you watched U.S. swimmer Lilly King’s finger wag at a television image of Russian opponent Yulia Efimova Sunday night, you saw the most straight-forward, take-no-prisoners reaction to athletes who have been caught doping being allowed to compete again.
Efimova, who had already served a 16-month suspension for testing positive for the anabolic steroid meldonium, tested positive for the same banned substance again this year. As a result of that second positive drug test, she was banned from competing in Rio. But a last minute approval of her appeal came in after the opening ceremony had already taken place.
Coming in first at the 100 breaststroke semifinal, Efimova had raised her finger in a No. 1 gesture. That didn’t sit well with King who said, “You wave your finger No. 1 and you’ve been caught drug cheating? I’m not a fan.” She expanded on her view on doping when asked if American sprinter Justin Gatlin who had finished a four-year suspension for testing positive twice, should be allowed to compete in Rio. Her reply? “Do I think someone who has been caught for doping should be on the team? No, I don’t.
King declared that she intended “to compete clean for the U.S.” And on Monday night she did just that. She won the 100-meter breaststroke, wresting it away from reigning champion Efimova in an Olympic record-breaking time of 1 minute 4.93 seconds. She then took another shot at her rival, saying “It’s incredible, just winning a gold medal, and knowing I did it clean.” Efimova took silver but the two will swim again in the 200-meter. Neither of them is as strong in a longer distance but you know that the competition will still be fierce.
Efimova was booed by the crowd, something you don’t normally hear from typically-supportive Olympic crowds. But she just became the poster child for the worldwide disgust over the increasingly common problem of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). Doping is a huge problem in sports and the Olympics haven’t been spared on this front; they’re now to the point of stripping medals from previous Olympic winners whose retests of their blood and urine samples came back positive.
And when the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) independent commission report came out in July, confirming the widespread Russian state-run doping scandal that operated at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, gasps were heard around the globe. WADA had already begun retesting samples from athletes at the Beijing Games in 2008 and the London Games in 2012, resulting in Russia’s track and field team being barred from the Rio Olympic Games.
But after the report, WADA called on the IOC to issue a blanket ban of all Russian athletes in Rio. Rather than address it head-on, many blame IOC president Thomas Bach for a lack of backbone and/or integrity. Instead of making a decision then and there, he appointed a group of three IOC members to make the decision, one that dragged on to the start of the Games. The entire Russian contingent was already in Rio before it was announced that aside from previously announced bans, Russian athletes would be allowed to compete.
Some critics of Bach’s handling of the matter cited his close friendship with Russia’s president Vladimir Putin as a reason why he failed to act decisively in the matter. Maybe it’s true; maybe it’s not; however, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) felt the matter was grave enough to issue a blanket ban of all Russian para-athletes.
People have long given lots of lip service to clearing banned PEDs in sports, particularly the Olympics and Paralympics where the “spirit” of the competition is supposed to be about competing, not winning. With the blatant ends to which some countries and athletes will go to win now uncovered for the ugly, unsavory business it really is, it will interesting to see how many will finally put their money where their mouth is!
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