What if All Russian Athletes Had been Banned from the Rio Olympics? Let’s Speculate

Rio Medals Table sans Russia

A little less than two weeks prior to the start of the 2016 Rio Olympics, the IOC made a fateful decision. A report from the World Anti-Doping Agency recommended that all Russian athletes be banned from international competition, including the Olympic Summer Games. The IOC, which had the final say, chose to defer judgment on eligibility for Olympic participation to the various international sports federations. While the international track and field organization, IAAF, had decided much earlier to ban the entire Russian track and field team, many other federations chose to allow the Russians to compete. In the end, 278 Russians were cleared, while 111 were ruled ineligible.

At the end of the Olympic Summer Games on August 21, Russia had tallied the fourth highest number of gold medals (19) and total medals (56), behind the USA, China and Great Britain. Russia finished ahead of Germany, France and Japan.

But what would have happened if all Russian athletes were banned from the Rio Games as WADA had recommended?

  1. Would the medal tables have changed significantly?
  2. Would any individual or team have won for their country a medal in a specific category for the first time?
  3. Would any nation have won its first medal of any kind, ever?

Would the medal tables have changed significantly? The answer to the first question is no. if the Russians had to give back all of their 56 medals, around 30 nations would be getting additional medals. America could have added two medals but they were already 50 medals ahead of China. China was actually impacted the most by Russia’s presence, as they could have had as many as another 7 bronze medals without the Russians in the mix. But that would still have left them far behind the US in the overall medal race.

Italy may have felt the pain considerably. Like the Chinese, they lost out potentially on as many as 7 bronze medals in a wide variety of sporting areas. Azerbaijan potentially lost out on 5 bronze medals, if not for the Russians.

Of course, these are guestimates I’ve made based on what individuals or teams came in fourth. Complicating matters, in sports like judo or wrestling or boxing you have at least two people each tied for third and fourth. In the case of the men’s lightweight boxing tournament, there were four people who finished just below one of the bronze medalists, a Russian. Who knows who would have actually gotten the bronze without Vitaly Dunaytsev in Rio?

Dipa Karmaker
India’s first Olympic gymnast, Dipa Karmaker
Would any nation have won its first medal in a specific category? The answer to the second question is yes. Dipa Karmaker is a female gymnast from India, and her score of 15.966 in the individual vault competition left her 0.15 points behind Giulia Steingruber of Switzerland. If silver medalist, Maria Paseka of Russia, had her medal revoked, Steingruber, Switzerland’s first gymnast to win a medal of any kind, would be awarded a silver medal. Her bronze medal would go to Karmaker, who is the first ever Indian to compete as a gymnast in the Olympics, and could possibly have been the first to win a gymnastics medal if the Russians were not allowed to compete.

Would any nation have won its first medal of any kind, ever? The answer to the third question is yes: two countries could have finally broken the high-performance glass ceiling with a bronze medal.

If not for Russia, Cameroon could have taken home a bronze in women’s freestyle wrestling (75kg). Annabelle Ali, Cameroon’s flag bearer in the 2012 Games, tied with Vasilisa Marzaliuk of Belarus one notch below the Russian Ekaterina Bukina.

Additionally, Mauritius could have experienced its first medal. Kennedy St Pierre was one of four heavyweight boxers to place fifth at Rio. If Evgeny Tishchenko were not in Rio, a favored boxer would have been out of the competition. Who knows who would have beaten whom? Out of 8 quarterfinalists, four get medals, so St Pierre’s chances would have increased significantly if the Russian was not in the ring. Yes, you can say that for the other competitors, but for Mauritius, it would have been party time if St Pierre brought home the bronze.

Kennedy St-Pierre
Mauritius’ Kennedy St-Pierre beat Algeria’s Chouaib Bouloudinats