Australian athlete chases Olympic gold amid doping scandal
MOSCOW (AP) — Jared Tallent says he “definitely” considers himself the true Olympic race-walking champion. Now he just needs the gold medal to prove it.
The Australian finished second in the 50-kilometer walk at the 2012 London Olympics behind Sergei Kirdyapkin, who was one of five Russian walkers banned Tuesday for doping.
Kirdyapkin had most of his results wiped out going back as far as 2009, but the Russian ruling allowed him to keep his Olympic title. That means Tallent remains the silver medalist, for now.
Tallent said the decision, handed down by the scandal-hit Russian Anti-Doping Agency, or RUSADA, was “politically motivated” to keep Russia’s Olympic medals intact. He is pushing for the result to be overturned on appeal.
“It’s crazy, absolutely ridiculous,” Tallent told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “You can’t cherry-pick when the athlete should get the results annulled.”
Each of the five banned Russians had results annulled for select periods from 2009 onwards. That means five world championship gold medals from 2009 and 2011 are set to be re-awarded, but not the biggest prizes of all — Kirdyapkin’s Olympic gold from London, and an Olympic silver medal for his teammate Olga Kaniskina, who was also banned.
RUSADA ruled Kirdyapkin was clean between June 12 and Oct. 14, 2012, a four-month window that includes the London Olympics. Kaniskina was considered clean from November 2011 to October 2012.
The Russian agency — which was accused last month of covering up positive tests for Russian athletes in a separate case — said those decisions were based on expert analysis of the athletes’ blood tests from the time.
“How can you say that (Kirdyapkin) was doping in May 2012 ... and then three months later he’s clean? That just makes no sense whatsoever,” Tallent said. “There’s obviously a lot of pressure there from somewhere (in Russia) that they want to keep those Olympic medals.”
Kirdyapkin also remains eligible to defend his Olympic title in Rio de Janeiro next year, pending the results of a separate investigation into whether he competed while suspended at a Russian meet last month.
The dispute over Kirdyapkin’s 2012 Olympic title could be decided by the Court of Arbitration for Sport if the IAAF or World Anti-Doping Agency decide to appeal the Russian ruling, seeking tougher punishment.
“I can see them definitely going for it,” Tallent said. “Athletics Australia and the Australian Olympic Committee are going to pressure WADA to get an appeal anyway, on my behalf.”
The International Association of Athletics Federations said the five cases announced Tuesday all involved athletes caught under the biological passport program, which tracks an athlete’s blood profile over an extended period of time.
“As a result of these cases, major international titles will be redistributed, but not until the IAAF has received, and carefully analyzed, the full reasoned decision” of the Russian federation, the international body said in a statement Wednesday.
The IAAF said 23 of the 37 athletes sanctioned for biological passport violations since 2009 are Russians.
“The number of Russian doping cases in athletics generally, and in race walking specifically, is a major concern for the IAAF and we are fully investigating recent doping allegations in Russian athletics, with WADA’s support,” the IAAF said.
Irish walker Olive Loughnane retired almost two years ago but now looks set for a gold medal. She finished second in the women’s 20-kilometer walk at the 2009 world athletics championships, but the original winner, Kaniskina, has now seen her result annulled.
“I wonder what she felt like, knowing that she’d cheated,” Loughnane told the AP by telephone. “I was terribly proud and I know that I’d done my absolutely best. I just wonder how she felt on the day. I would imagine that my performance meant so much more to me than it could possibly have meant to her.”
Russian athletics federation head Valentin Balakhnichev on Wednesday suggested he could resign at some stage, but insisted he would remain for the time being as investigations continue into allegations involving his time in charge.
Those include claims that the federation oversaw a systematic doping program and allegations that four Russian walkers, including Kirdyapkin and 2012 women’s Olympic champion Elena Lashmanova, competed while serving suspensions.
“From the perspective of my health, resigning now would be right,” Balakhnichev told Russia’s Tass news agency. “I’d go, forget everything, dump it all on other people, but that wouldn’t be honorable.”
“I should fulfil my duty until the end, finish all the scandals and investigations and reform the Russian national team.”