Doping and the Medal Musical Chairs Part 2: The Alchemy of Koji Murofushi’s Medals

Men's hammer throw gold medal winner Adr
Ivan Tsikhan, Adrian Annus, and Koji Murofushi with their medals just after the 2004 hammer throw competition in Athens

Koji Murofushi of Japan is not only an Olympian, he’s an alchemist. In his career, he’s turned silver into gold and made bronze appear and disappear.

In 2004, Murofushi was dueling it out with fellow hammer thrower, Adrián Annus of Hungary. Murofushi, though, must have been a bit frustrated because for every mighty throw he made, Annus would throw one slightly further. And in the third of six throws in the finals of the hammer throw, Annus tossed the hammer 83.19 meters, which Murofushi simply could not match. His final throw of the event went 82.91 meters, well beyond every other competitor, except for Annus.

Thus, on August 22, 2004, the Hungarian took the gold in the hammer throw, and the Japanese the silver.

Only a few days after Murofushi stood listening to the Hungarian national anthem on the winner’s podium, he heard the news: Annus would be stripped of his gold medal. As it turned out, the urine samples Annus submitted to authorities before and after the hammer throw competition appeared to be from two different people, neither of them chemically linked to Annus. He was then asked to submit to a urine test after his return to Hungary, but Annus never showed up for the test. Annus was then ordered to return his gold medal so that it could be handed to Murofushi. It took a while, but several months later, under pressure of the IOC and the constant media attention, Annus relented and relinquished his Olympic title.

Murofushi’s silver turned to gold, and he is now the hammer throw champion of the 2004 Athens Olympics.

In 2008, at the Beijing Olympics, Slovenian hammer thrower, Primož Kozmus, won almost every one of the six rounds. He threw 82.02 meters four of those five times, which must have been a bit frustrating, but that mark was still good enough to best all other finalists. Murofushi could not repeat his gold-medal winning distance of 82.91 meters in Athens, his best throw of 80.71 landing him in fifth and thus medal-less.

But in the months after the Beijing Olympics, the IOC began reviewing the test results of the 2008 Olympians and concluded that Vadim Devyatovskiy and Ivan Tsikhan of Belarus had tested positive for abnormal levels of testosterone after the hammer throw competition. (Tsikhan had already been stripped of his bronze medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics.) In December of 2008, the IOC ordered that the Belarusians be stripped of their respective silver and bronze medals, and that the fourth and fifth place finishers receive those medals. As Murofushi finished fifth, he was belatedly awarded the bronze medal, becoming only the third Japanese to win medals in consecutive Olympic Games.

Koji Murofushi at the Beijing Olympics

“It’s a real honor to get a medal in two straight Olympics,” Murofushi was quoted as saying in this Japan Times article. “But it is sad that this has come about because of doping. These were buddies I competed together with so it is incredibly disappointing. This (doping problem) is something the sports world really needs to tackle. It has to be thought of as a very serious problem.”

In the meanwhile, the Belarusians did not take their ignominy sitting down. They appealed the ruling, taking their case to the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport, the international body that settles disputes related to the Olympics. And in June of 2010, the court upheld the appeal from the Belarusians. Apparently, the court uncovered irregularities in the way the urine samples were handled, thus making it difficult to determine with conviction that doping had taken place. As a result, their silver and bronze medals were restored to them, and Murofushi dropped back down to fifth. He was not to receive a medal for his results in Beijing.

Murofushi’s remarks to the press showed he was willing to be diplomatic, emphasizing the positive. As he said in this Kyodo article, “doping is gaining more and more attention and this will result in stricter tests. I think this will be a plus for me at the London Olympics.”

Maybe it was. Murofushi, at the age of 37, took bronze in the hammer throw at the 2012 London Olympics.