Shadow falls on Athens

EARLIER this week, I was asked on social media about the value and purpose of spending money, time and effort tracking down doping cheats from the past.

It related to the pursuit of a pack of Olympic medallists from Athens in 2004 by the World Anti Doping Agency and the International Olympic Committee, made possible by a decision to freeze samples for up to eight years.

In this most recent exercise, four Eastern bloc throwers will be stripped of medals won at the Athens Games, including men's shot put gold winner, Yuri Bilonog, of Ukraine.

These four, and a fifth still under investigation, have all been prolific placegetters at international competitions. One of the four, Russian Svetlana Krivelyova was the Olympic gold medallist in Barcelona as long ago as 1992.

The Belarus pair of Ivan Tsikhan (hammer) and Iryna Yatchenko (discus) will also lose their medals, with Tsikhan coming under suspicion not for the first time, having avoided losing his Beijing bronze only after a lengthy court case, which he and a fellow countryman won on a technicality.

Fundamentally these are bad people, advised by bad people and who quite possibly have been allowed to get away with even more by corrupt individuals and organisations.

Almost certainly they are serial offenders but this is the first time for most that they have actually been caught, again for most of them only after they have retired.

One irony of this work is that another Belarussian, Nadzeya Ostapchuk, will be eligible to receive the women's shot put bronze medal from Athens.

She sprang to wider international fame earlier this year when she was disqualified from the London Games for cheating and was forced to hand over the gold medal to New Zealand's Valerie Adams.

A shadow must now clearly hang over the drug testing procedures at the Athens Games.

How that was all managed, in terms of collection, testing and reporting must now be under serious question.

Especially since each of these cheats has been found to have used good old- fashioned steroids, rather than a substance for which no test was available eight years ago.

Two other eastern Europeans throwers, Hungarians Robert Fazekas and Adrian Annus, lost their gold medals at the time but there was little choice to pursue their case immediately as they were observed appearing to prepare to manipulate collection during and straight after their events.

Certainly, Fazekas at least appears to be a repeat offender, having tested positive again this year after returning to competition with Annus as his coach.

There was also the notorious case at the time of the two Greek sprinters who feigned a motorcycle crash as an excuse for having not been present for an out-of- competition test just before the Games.

This most recent exercise is, most surely, not in vain.

Even if it does not result in a determination whether there was corruption in the doping-control process in Athens, it has served a most valuable purpose in firing a warning shot over the heads of those who, for whatever reason, believe they might be able to avoid detection.

The storing of samples, both taken in and out of competition, and retrospective testing can become among the most valuable of deterrents in all sports, including those in which at the moment there might not appear to be a problem.

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