On December 5, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) banned the Russian National Olympic Committee from the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, taking a significantly bolder stance than they did at the 2016 Rio Olympics when they only delegated that decision to the international sports federations.
As the actual team was not banned, individual Russian athletes will still likely be able to apply for participation on their own if it can be shown they were not involved in the state-doping program for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. If they are allowed to join the PyoengChang Olympics, they will participate under the banner of OAR (Olympic Athlete from Russia), and if they win a gold medal, they will hear the Olympic Anthem, not the Russian anthem.
Several days later, the head of the International Fencing Federation (FIE) and billionaire Russian national, Alisher Usmanov, wrote a letter to the IOC with an appeal. While Usmanov makes no defense of those athletes who have used doping as a systematic part of their training and development, he claims that those Russian athletes who are “clean” should not be treated unfairly.
Even though discrimination in any shape or form contradicts the principles of the Olympic Movement, the IOC’s decision certainly does put clean Russian athletes on an uneven playing field with athletes from other countries. Having gone through the purgatory of the Olympic qualifications, clean Russian athletes will (a) have to wait for months for the final decisions by the special commission of the IOC, (b) be deprived of the customary support of the NOC of Russia, and (c) most importantly, be denied the right to see their national flag and hear their national anthem.
What is interesting, and perhaps ironic, is the appeal to fairness:
One of the principles of Roman law states: “Nullum crimen, nulla poena sine culpa”. (“No guilt – no punishment”.) The innocent shall not be punished and put down to knees. This approach violates the basic human rights and undermines the trust in law and justice. Athletes dedicate their rather short life in sport for this one moment when they can see their country’s flag in the sky and hear the sound of their national anthem. This is the pinnacle of their glory, their personal conquest of Everest.
This very principle of fairness is what got the Russian sports machine in trouble. The well-documented state-sponsored doping regime in Russia may have very well resulted in the cheater assuming the medal podium. When a doper wins a medal, clean athletes are deprived of the glory of claiming gold, and the potential of financial gains among other things. Clean athletes who finish fourth, fifth or sixth are deprived of receiving any medal and thus public recognition.
I understand Usmanov’s appeal. And he is actually right. However, a little more empathy about how other athletes feel about the Russia doping scandal could have helped.
Bob Hayes, a student at Florida A&M, was eating dinner in the university’s student union building when he heard that the campus police wanted to speak to him. When he found the police, they told him they were taking him to jail for robbery.
According to Hayes’ autobiography, Run, Bullet, Run, a friend named James Vickers said that he and Hayes had robbed a fellow student. Vickers held up a plastic gun and got what the student had: eleven cents and two sticks of gum. Hayes said he had no idea what the police were talking about, but he was carted off to the city jail, where Hayes stayed for 7 days without showering and changing clothes. With no money, no lawyer, no idea what to do, Hayes said he signed a confession and pleaded guilty in the hopes of getting out of jail.
When it was time for sentencing, Hayes’ coach, Jack Gaither made an appeal to the judge: “If you give me this boy for four years, I guarantee you he won’t get in trouble and he’ll make you proud of him.” Hayes was put on probation for ten years and had to report to a probation officer once a month. All that for eleven cents and two sticks of gum, taken with a plastic gun, by someone else.
Thanks to Gaither, Hayes had a fruitful college football career. He then went on to win two gold medals at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, be crowned the fastest man in the world, and win a Super Bowl with the Dallas Cowboys, the first of only two people to have reached such heights. Retired from sports, Hayes anticipated a trip to the NFL Hall of Fame, thanks to the way he revolutionized American football, stretching defenses with his speed. Bob Hayes was on top of the world. Until the police came calling again.
It was the middle of the night in March, 1978, when the police banged vigorously on Hayes’ door. The police arrested him for selling drugs, and carted him off to the local jail. A man named Denny Kelly, described as an airline pilot and an undercover policemen in the Dallas area, where Hayes was living, apparently befriended Hayes, and little by little would ask for drugs. Hayes wrote that first he provided Kelly with methaqualone (also known as Quaaludes), and connected Kelly to people who could sell him cocaine. Hayes introduced Kelly to another person who would end up selling Kelly cocaine. As conversations and video of Kelly and Hayes were recorded, including one at Hayes office at a computer company he was working at.
Two pills of Quaaludes, apparently “sold” to Kelly when Hayes borrowed ten dollars from Kelly to pay for gas, as well as five grams of cocaine sold by a person introduced by Hayes in a case that suspiciously looked like entrapment – this should have resulted in a light sentence, slap on the wrist perhaps – but this was a second offense. Because Hayes had a previous arrest record in the case where he allegedly stole 11 cents and two sticks of gum, his case could have gone to a jury trial where, if convicted, Hayes could have gone to prison for many years. Even though his teammates all testified that Hayes was not a drug dealer, they knew that the risk of Hayes going to a jury, one that could have been packed with whites, was too great, so they encouraged him to plead guilty with the hopes of getting off lightly.
Unfortunately, the judge sentenced Hayes to five years in prison. No longer the iconic #22 wide receiver, Hayes was inmate number 290973 of the Texas prison system. Here’s how he described his life in prison in his autobiography:
After living the good life – a nice house, and the best hotels when I traveled – I found myself in an eight-by-ten foot cell for several weeks of orientation and then in a dormitory with about a hundred other inmates, most of whom were fifteen or so years younger than me, using a public shower like I had with the Cowboys and eating in amess hall. We had to be counted four times a day to make sure that none of us was missing and a count could take as long as an hour if someone was unaccounted for.
Being in prison taught me a little more about the values of life. I saw the things I was missing and how I always took things for granted. You don’t really miss freedom until you don’t have any choice. Just being able to get a glass of milk or a Pepsi whenever I wanted one meant so much more to me after I got out.
Fortunately for Hayes, he did not serve five years. His case was overturned on appeal, and he was free. In today’s terms, it appears to be a tough punishment for someone who only introduced another person to a very persistent undercover cop, and did not technically sell anything to anyone. And yet, his time in prison followed him like a dark cloud. At the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, twenty years after Hayes’ triumphs in Tokyo, Hayes was shunned from the Games by the US Olympic Committee. And in this interview with Frank Gifford during ABC’s coverage of the Games, you can tell that Hayes is miffed at his treatment.
I’m in between jobs now. It has been very difficult for me. It very difficult to get someone to trust and believe in me now as a citizen because no one thinks of me in terms of my accomplishments. Just the drug conviction. Frank, I spent ten months in incarceration for a total of 700 dollars that I was indirectly involved in. I would love to get a good writer, like an Alex Haley, a director like a Norman Lear, and a TV network like an ABC, who can really get out there and show the American public what has happened to named athletes. Not only a named athlete but everyone. I want people to see what has happened. It has been a downhill situation. It’s very difficult to come out on top again when someone continues to kick you and stab you in the back, to redeem yourself.
When Hayes said he was on the stand, he had admitted: “I’m not the smartest guy in the world. If I was, I wouldn’t be up here. I’m guilty. I was wrong. I’ve paid the price in my image and my respect. People see me as Bob Hayes, dope dealer, not Bob Hayes, the citizen. It hurts.”
In his autobiography, Hayes went further: “My whole prison experience turned out to be a waste, a nightmare that never should have happened.”
When he passed away, the only man to win a gold medal and a Super Bowl ring, a man who disrupted NFL defenses with his speed and skill, was denied entry into the NFL Hall of Fame. Eventually, Hayes was inducted, albeit over 6 years after Hayes’ death. Thinking that he might eventually get in, he wrote a Thank You note that was read posthumously at the 2009 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony:
You know I am not sure I am going to be around if I get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame so you must read this for me, I am not sure, I guess I am feeling sorry for myself at this time but you must remember everything I want you to do and say. Mother said you would do what I want because you always did. So read this for me.
I would like to thank everyone who supported me to get into the NFL Hall of Fame, the Dallas Cowboys organization, all of my team mates and everyone who played for the Cowboys, (thank the San Francisco 49rs [sic] too). Thank the fans all around the country and the world, thank the committee who voted for me and also the ones who may did not vote for me, thank Mother and my family, thank Roger Stauback [sic] and tell all my teammates I love them dearly.
Thank the Pro Football Hall of Fame, all the NFL teams and players, Florida A&M University, thank everyone who went to Mathew [sic] Gilbert High School, thank everyone in Jacksonville and Florida and everyone especially on the East Side of Jacksonville. Thank everyone in the City of Dallas and in Texas and just thank everyone in the whole world.
The IOC sought to inject youth and improve gender diversity into the 2020 Tokyo Olympics by adding events, while keeping the total number of invited athletes the same. In addition to the five new sports added in August, 2016 (baseball/softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing), the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced the addition of 15 new events to existing sports.
And yet, to keep to a limit of 11,090 total athletes at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, cuts had to be made. The IOC made decisions that resulted in the elimination of 285 quota slots for various sports. Much of this was driven by a need to improve gender ratios, particularly in sports like cycling, judo, rowing, sailing, shooting, swimming and water polo.
But the biggest losers? Wrestling with 56 cuts, weightlifting with 64 and athletics with 105 cuts.
Perhaps messages are being sent.
Wrestling was actually dropped from the Olympic menu of core sports in February, 2013 because the rules were considered vague. Wrestling’s scoring system was too difficult to understand, which in turn made it difficult to engage the average television viewer. Somehow, through significant lobbying efforts, wrestling was reinstated as a non-core sport for the 2020 Games, but the latest decision to cull the wrestling numbers may be a reminder that wrestling has to work at its game.
Athletics, with its high profile events and global track stars, also suffers from a deep and dark history of doping. Most recently, the IAAF banned the entire Russian track and field team from the 2016 Rio Olympics. All of this may have made it easier for the IOC to prioritize cuts in athletics.
As for weightlifting, the dark clouds of doping have hung over this sport for decades. The IOC dropped an entire men’s weight class on its way to eliminating 64 quota slots for Tokyo 2020. Said Japan Weightlifting Association President Yoshiyuki Miyake in this Mainichi Daily News article, It’s a shame. I’m confused why they would make this kind of decision without any discussion.”
In the men’s 94-kilogram class at the 2012 London Games, Poland’s Tomasz Zielinski finished ninth. A disappointment, to be sure, but Zielinski was eventually awarded the bronze medal after six of the lifters ahead of him failed drug tests.
Wonderful story, right? Not so much. Zielinski, who obviously didn’t win a medal for his ability to learn from other’s mistakes, was kicked out of the 2016 Rio Games when one of his own tests came back positive.
IOC president has been explicit that he is sending messages, according to that same article:
Bach called weight lifting’s punishment in Friday’s reordering of the Games “a strong signal” to the sport. Good for him. Standing up to cheaters, and meting out real punishment, is common sense. If one sport’s athletes can’t follow the rules, other athletes from other sports should get a chance.
The Olympians has been a labor of love for exactly two years. It is my sketchbook as I prepare for the mural masterpiece, a book on the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
While my book’s focus is on the XVIII Tokyo Olympiad, I use my blog as an excuse to write about anything even remotely related to these areas: the Tokyo Olympics, the Olympics overall, Japan, and sports in general. In other words, I think of my blog as therapy for a restlessly curious mind.
How else could I go 730 straight days without missing a post?
It’s been exactly two years since I started my journey to understand the context, the organization and the stories of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. My father was at those games as a news producer for NBC, and I turned one years old on Opening Day.
I moved to Tokyo for a third time in January, 2014, excited by Tokyo’s selection as the host city for the 2020 Summer Games. Surprised to find not a single book on the 1964 Tokyo Olympics in English, I endeavored to write the definitive record. On May 1, 2015, I started my blog, The Olympians is in many ways, the first draft of my book.
All, thank you for your wonderful comments and support!
It’s been suspected for a while. The effortless speed. The wheels continuing to spin way longer than they should after a crash.
Tiny motors in bicycles.
And finally, on January 28, 2017, a bicycle of a racer who had dropped out of the cyclocross world championships in Zolder, Belgium was seen to have electrical cables coming out of part of its body, according to this article. Upon further investigation, a small motor was found.
The bike belonged to a 19-year old Belgian cyclist named Femke Van den Driessche, a champion of Belgian national cyclo-cross and junior mountain bike tournaments. She was a favorite in the Zolder event until a mechanical problem ended her race. It has also put her career in suspension as Van den Driessche was banned for six years, and would be required to forfeit all results since October 10, 2015.
Van den Driessche said “It wasn’t my bike — it was that of a friend and was identical to mine,” according to this article. But her coach, Rudy De Bie said he was “disgusted.” “We thought that we had in Femke a great talent in the making but it seems that she fooled everyone,” he told Sporza.
Coincidentally, the day after this first publicly realized case of “bike doping”, the American news program, 60 Minutes, aired a segment entitled “Enhancing the Bike“. Correspondent, Bill Whitaker went to Budapest, Hungary to meet an engineer named Stefano Varjs, who designed a motor small enough to fit unseen inside the frame of a bike and powerful enough to motor an adult up a hill with relative ease.
When Varis showed this invention to a friend in 1998, the friend said he had a buyer who wanted this technology and would pay a handsome sum, if the buyer was assured of exclusive right to this technology for 10 years. Varis was paid USD2 million, an offer he simply could not refuse.
From that point on, it has been suspected that motorized bikes have been used in competitions, even the Tour de France. Here is part of the transcript of the 60 Minutes report:
Jean-Pierre Verdy is the former testing director for the French Anti-Doping Agency who investigated doping in the Tour de France for 20 years.
Bill Whitaker: Have there been motors used in the Tour de France?
Jean-Pierre Verdy: Yes, of course. It’s been the last three to four years when I was told about the use of the motors. And in 2014, they told me there are motors. And they told me, there’s a problem. By 2015, everyone was complaining and I said, something’s got to be done.
Verdy said he’s been disturbed by how fast some riders are going up the mountains. As a doping investigator, he relied for years on informants among the team managers and racers in the peloton, the word for the pack of riders. These people told Jean-Pierre Verdy that about 12 racers used motors in the 2015 Tour de France.
Bill Whitaker: The bikers who use motors, what do you think of them and what they’re doing to cycling?
Jean-Pierre Verdy: They’re hurting their sport. But human nature is like that. Man has always tried to find that magic potion.
Watch the video below to see an example of a possible bike that’s been doped.
The 4×100 relay is a team sport in the strictest ways – all four individuals have to do their part, either by executing exactly to plan and training, or by following the rules to ensure minimum eligibility. If one individual fails, the entire team fails. There is very little room for error.
At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Usain Bolt made history running the third leg in the 4×100 men’s relay, becoming the first person ever to win gold in the 100-meter, 200-meter and 4×100 men’s relay in the same athletics event. Not only that, he achieved all three victories in world record time.
But in late January of 2017, it was announced that his teammate, Nesta Carter, had tested positive for a banned stimulant (methylhexaneamine). In 2008, after the finals, Carter’s urine test came up negative. But due to the shocking news last year of systematic state-sponsored doping in Russia, the IOC asked for re-testing of results going back ten years, as the tools to uncover traces of banned substances has improved significantly over the years. Dozens of athletes have now tested positive, many of them medalists, including Carter. And because Carter has been disqualified, so too has the entire Jamaican 4×100 team.
Many who love and respect Bolt feel Bolt’s record has been tarnished, perhaps unfairly. And when Bolt and his teammates won gold in the 4×100 relay at the Rio Olympics, he became the first person ever to win the 100-meter, 200-meter and 4×100 men’s relay in three straight Olympics – the so-called Triple Triple. Well, that golden symmetry has been disturbed with the removal of the 4×100 gold in Beijing.
But most people will agree, the loss of the relay gold will not hurt Bolt’s immense legacy. Even Bolt believes that to be the case. “I think I’ve accomplished a lot. This hasn’t changed what I have done throughout my career. I have worked hard and pushed and done things that no one has done before. I have won three gold medals over the 100m and 200m, which no one has ever done before.”
The part of this story that does not get played up, the happy side of this story, is the medalists who move up the medal table:
Trinidad and Tobago: a traditional powerhouse in sprinting, took Olympic gold in the 4×100 meter relay for the first time. While they could have whooped it up, there is so much respect for Usain Bolt amidst the Caribbean nations, that the celebration in Trinidad and Tobago was somewhat muted, as represented in the comments of Trinidad’s gold-medalist, Richard Thompson. “Bolt’s achievements have been recorded in the annals of athletics and no one can take that away. Rather than lament for the Jamaican team, I prefer to focus all my energy on lauding my Trinbagonian athletes who ran a ‘clean’ race.”
Japan:At the Rio Olympics, Japan took silver in the men’s 4×100 relay, second only to mighty Jamaica, in a surprise. The Japan team had bested their country’s top men’s relay track result, bronze at the Beijing Olympics. But now, the men’s sprint team from 2008 are now equal to the 2016 – silver medalists. And heading into the Tokyo2020 Olympics, young runners have even greater reason to be inspired to train hard, run clean and dream.
Brazil:Perhaps the happiest group in these medal re-shuffles are the fourth-place finishers who wake up one morning to find out they are now bronze medalists. They missed the pomp and circumstance of standing on the medal podium and seeing their flag raised in front of billions of people. They may have missed financial opportunities that come with a medal finish right after the Olympics. But they now have something they didn’t expect to have – a medal. As Bruno de Barros, a member of Brazil’s 4×100 relay team, said “It’s a great sense of happiness, despite the time lapse, which isn’t really important. The feeling of being an Olympic medalist is the same. In fact, after waiting so long, it’s worth more.”