Who Will Be On the Rio Podium in 10 Years?

Over the past week new Olympic medalists were crowned in track and field. We’ve seen dramatic performances, amazing back stories, and new stars emerge. But while the competition on the field has finished, unfortunately the results have not yet been finalized.

Let’s consider the current results as a first draft. Under the 2015 revisions to the WADA code, drug testers may retest samples from Rio for the next 10 years. If history tells us anything, it is guaranteed to result in some changes. Let’s look more than a decade back to 2004. Retesting first came into play at this Olympics and as the statute of limitations has now expired it gives a good case study in what is to come.

Coincidentally the Athens Olympics was the first Olympics where I watched every throw. I could tell you about nearly every thrower in the field, but even I was surprised when I looked back and saw that of the 18 medals in the heavy throws, 7 had changed hands and another 4 tainted medals. That’s well over half the medals from Athens, and these are just the athletes that were doping in competition. What about those athletes only doping out of competition? What about the corruption that hides positives? Just look at Sochi where lost samples and potential positives may never be found, and people like Swiss bobsledder Beat Hefti will never receive the gold he earned but was given to Russia’s Alexandr Zubkov.

Of the 18 heavy throws medals from 2004 Olympics, over half have been stripped or tainted by doping. Click To Tweet

Growing up I always felt our sport was cleaner than cycling and baseball and American football. But looking back I can see I was a blind sheep. In the 12 years since then the IAAF, IOC, and WADA have done little to give me confidence that I am watching a cleaner sport. And the issue is not limited to the throws; distance and sprinting podiums have seen numerous changes as well. So that makes me wonder how many Rio medals will change hands over the next decade. This is unfortunate because of the impact is has on athletes, and on fans. Here is the complete look at the 2004 podiums in the heavy throws:

Shot Put: 3 medals stripped, 1 tainted medal

Already before the Olympics were over there were rumors that men’s shot put champion Yuri Bilonog of Ukraine had failed his drug test. That rumor turned out to be false, but he did eventually get his gold stripped in 2012 when his sample was retested. Adam Nelson was upgraded as a result.

The women’s shot put had a similar story, but it took a much shorter time to play out. Irina Korzhanenko of Russia took gold and within a week of the Games her result came back positive. This was the second doping ban of her career and resulted in a lifetime ban.

After Korzhanenko was stripped of gold, her teammate Svetlana Krivelyova was upgraded to bronze. But eight years later Krivelyova was also stripped after a retest of her sample came back positive. The bronze medal was not subsequently reawarded in part because Nadzeya Ostapchuk of Belarus was in line to receive it next, but had failed drug tests at the 2005 World Championships and 2012 Olympics. The next finisher Natallia Mikhnevich also failed drug tests later in her career.

Hammer Throw: 2 medals stripped, 3 tainted medals

The biggest doping story at the games was triggered when Adrian Annus of Hungary was stripped of his gold for tampering with his doping samples. Tests showed that two of his samples came from two different individuals, which led to his disqualification (the rumor in online forums was that he was using a Wizzinator). He additionally refused to give another sample upon request.

After Annus was stripped, Koji Murofushi received gold, and Ivan Tikhon was upgraded to silver. Tikhon was one of the most complicated doping histories in track and field. He was stripped of his 2008 silver medal after a positive test, but won it back on appeal. However he was not as lucky with his 2004 medal. After a retest in 2012 this was stripped.

While those were the only medals stripped in the hammer, the story does not stop there. After Annus was banned, Esref Apak of Turkey had been upgraded to bronze. While he never tested positive in 2004, a positive drug test in 2013 landed him a two year ban. That puts some suspicion around his 2004 results too. Likely because of this, he was never upgraded to silver after Tikhon was stripped. If Apak was upgraded, then fourth place finisher Vadim Devyatovskiy also would have been upgraded to bronze. Devyatovskiy has his own backstory which includes a 2000 positive and a positive in 2008 (which, along with Tikhon’s, was overturned on appeal) and likely played into the IOC’s decision not to award the silver medal to anyone.

The doping issues again were not limited to the men’s competition. The women’s champion Olga Kuzenkova of Russia was stripped of her 2005 world title after a retest came back positive. She still retains her Olympic gold, but with similar results in both competitions I don’t know anyone that thinks she only started doping in 2005.

Discus Throw: 2 medals stripped

Annus’s teammate and training partner Robert Fazekas initially won the men’s discus gold, but had that stripped too after problems with his ability and willingness to provide a sample.

In the women’s discus competition Iryna Yatchenko of Belarus was stripped of her bronze medal after a retest of her sample in 2012 came back positive.

2 replies
  1. Dave Ratcliffe
    Dave Ratcliffe says:

    Martin, I am glad that we have got you to air these issues among a wider audience.

    The only way that these issues can be resolved is by bringing them to the attention of the athletes and general public.

    What about the issue of Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs).

    Is it a level playing field when genuine athletes have to compete against athletes who are taking Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) via TUES.

    I think not.

    Should another category of championships (such as the Paralympics) be run for athletes with TUEs. .


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