Its 1988 I’m sitting in the middle of the den floor glued to the television set preparing myself for the Olympic 100 meter finals in Seoul, Korea. I was anxious as the runners gathered in their blocks and awaited the gunshot. BOOM! Just like that; it was over and I could hardly comprehend what I had just seen. My older brother was literally hopping up and down in disbelief. I couldn’t figure it out! So I asked the question that would change how I looked at sports the rest of my life. “HOW?” Ben Johnson ran a 9.79 and I had no clue how a man could move that fast. Mind you, I haven’t seen much track in my life at this point but I knew then I wanted to be fast like him. I was often thrown off by Carl Lewis’ constant public whining and bickering of Ben Johnson. So to see Johnson destroy Lewis, albeit a fellow American, I was satisfied. “Fastest Man Alive.” That title had an allure than seemed to be calling me but little did I know that “HOW?” would soon be answered.
That’s how he did it! And that’s how six other lanes in that 100 meter final in 1988 had finished a race at some point in their careers. On DOPE. Much discussion about the particulars went on and my father served as a reliable source to explain what some of the larger words meant at the time. The key word that has stuck with me since is STEROIDS. The stigma of cheating was already in the air from the Olympic trials in Los Angeles due to Flo Jo’s mind-blowing record breaking week. At that meet Florence Griffith Joyner set the 100 meter record running 10.51. Her previous best was 10.91. Unreal.
This moment would prove to be big; no huge. Here it is, track’s biggest and brightest stars associated with cheating. How could this be happening? What would make people want to cheat is what I asked myself a thousand times. I wouldn’t understand the depth of that question until many years later. And here we are many years later. Flo-Jo has since passed away from a possible PED -related death at the early age of 38. She was not the only possible victim. There are dozens others.
When you are ostracized and forced to take your child and leave home, it can have a lingering effect that never settles. For Yuliya Stepanova, known more for her maiden name Yuliya Rusanova, there has been no site of settling since her and husband, Vitaliy, turned whistleblower against the Russia National Track and Sports Program in 2014. Rusanova was the runner up in the 2011 European indoor championship. Her personal best that year of 1 minute 56 seconds didn’t come with a celebration. It came with a letter to the IOC detailing, 2 years prior to the public acceptance of her story every, detail of how she cheated and who instructed her to cheat. Her testimony has led to the biggest Performance Enhancing Drug Investigations in history. It was because of her testimony detailing how coaches and team officials, some affiliated with other National and International sports, all participated in an elaborate cover up for many years. Reddit.com was able to secure a full interview of her admission and the details. Here an expert from the interview:
“I wrote in it, how the Russian national team coach provided me with Epo and how Dr. Portugalov, chief of the Medical Commission of the Russian Federation, instructed me to dope.”
The rest of the interview can found here https://www.reddit.com/r/sports/comments/2plvl8/interview_with_russian_doping_whistleblower/
Because of these founded issues the International Olympic committee has decided to relaunch the testing of 454 samples from the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The alarming factor now is that 31 athletes will possibly be banned from Olympic competition this summer in Rio. With the London Olympics being currently re-tested for masking agents with updated technology scans, we can expect for punishment to be given out.
But what Vitaliy and Yuliya Stepanova cant expect is help and support from the IOC. The exact organization they gave the biggest doping case to has no issue not offering any support. For a couple who has been forced to pack up and mover to several to different locations outside of their home country because of death threats and possible injury to their son, the IOC had no response to the public questioning about the couple’s treatment and support from German Sports Journalist Hajo Seppelt.
Seppelt has become one of the world leading journalists on doping scandals. He has uncovered several EPO operations in Kenya and Russia. Kenya over the past 20 years has been painted as the “Home of Marathon”, but that has come with much scrutiny as of late with more than HALF of the Kenyan marathon winners testing positive for EPO and/or other substances in the past 5 years.
Being an Olympic Hero has always been a countryman’s or countrywomen’s dream since the beginning of international competition. But at what cost has that glory, fame, and podium come at? The countless lives that ended prematurely are only one side of the story. The harsh conditions in which one lives, almost forces you into being complicit of the reasons why some cheat. When I came to grips to understand that not only Ben Johnson had cheated but 5 other racers had as well, if not then, then later, I would no longer look at the cheater but what created the monster. The forces behind winning go all the way back to East Germany secretly doping its 1976 swim team.
Here we are today August 2016, in Rio de Janeiro preparing for what is supposed to be one of the most exciting Olympiads in years, and yet all the talk is about the IOC determining the status of Russia’s capacity to participate because PEDs and the living conditions one of Brazil’s most popular resort areas. A number of athletes have rejected the opportunity to compete because of the before mentioned factors. To add to that the “Zika” virus is still a great concern in Central and South America.
With all of these distractions, it makes it very hard to actually enjoy the very purpose of these games; to feel patriotic. The headlines have stolen the joy from kids excited about seeing their favorite athletes compete in their countries’ colors. No, they won’t remember the opening ceremonies, void of something historically tragic. They will take away the memory of watching the greatest thing they have ever seen in their short lives. It is my hope that it is not marred by headlines of “cheated” and findings that your “hometown hero” stole his moment from another athlete and you are left with the memory of just another “dOpelympics”.