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.


It’s a cat and mouse game, the chemists on the side of the cheaters, and the chemists on the side of the authorities. And like hackers in cyberspace, the well-financed black hats in the shadows will often times be one step ahead of the rule-makers and the enforcers.

But doping detection technology improves, and what was once untraceable is now visible. A considerable number of urine samples were taken on athletes, samples that were considered clean in 2008 in Beijing and 2012 in London. With the revelations of state-sponsored doping in Russia, sports officials decided it was time to re-test samples from previous Olympics to see whether any medal winners had gotten away with cheating. For certain Olympians, the results have been traumatic…others euphoric.

According to this New York Times article, 75 athletes have been declared cheaters as traces of the anabolic steroids Turinabol and Stanozolo. As the article explained, the “findings have resulted in a top-to-bottom rewriting of Olympic history.”

The article cited the case of American high jumper, Chaunté Lowe, who finished sixth in her competition at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Eight years later, when the urine samples were re-tested, two Russians and a Ukrainian who had finished ahead of Lowe in 3rd, 4th and 5th place were disqualified for doping. As a result, Lowe, who originally finished 6th, was suddenly a medalist.

As she was quoted as saying in the NYTImes article “I kept doing the math,” said Ms. Lowe, who originally finished sixth. “Wait: 6, 5, 4. … Oh my gosh — they’re right. I started crying.”

Chaunté Lowe in 2012

Nearly a decade later, out of her prime, Lowe should be receiving her bronze medal at the age of 32, way too late to take advantage of the “benefits” that come with a medal. For one, she may have been viewed as an athlete worth continued investment, and could have gone onto greater glory at the 2012 London Games at the age of 28. Or she could have managed her way into sponsorships in the strong afterglow upon her return from Beijing. At the very least, she could have been celebrated among her peers or in her hometown in a fleeting ego-affirming way or, who knows, in a life-changing way.

With the advancement of technology an assumption, taking samples during a given Games will continue to be key. Dr. Olivier Rabin of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) was quoted in the article as saying, “Science progresses every day. Just over the past probably five years, the sensitivity of the equipment progressed by a factor of about 100. You see what was impossible to see before.”

However, the Rio Olympics demonstrated how poor planning and execution can lead to a large number of untested Olympians. In other words, years from now, WADA may not be able to catch all the cheats. Will Tokyo2020 be able to execute on the growing demands for testing?

The cat and mouse game continues….

From the 2016/2017 Manpower Talent Shortage Survey

Another study has revealed another issue in planning for Tokyo2020. According to a Japanese Sports Agency panel, there are concerns that Japan won’t have the necessary manpower to ensure drug testing is handled effectively and in a timely fashion.

According to a recently released report, Tokyo2020 will need approximately 200 analysts rotating in round-the-clock shifts every day during the Olympic Games, in order to complete an estimated 6,500 tests. Each test has to be completed within 24 hours of receipt of the sample.

Currently, there is only one lab in Japan that can conduct drug tests to the standards of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), and they employee 15 analysts. Their turnaround time for a drug test is 10 days.

I have no doubt that Tokyo2020 will figure out how to efficiently and effectively process the required drug tests by the time the Tokyo Olympics roll around, but it will not be easy to find the talent. As a Human Resource professional working in Japan, I am fully aware of how fierce the war for talent is in this country., in its most recent Talent Shortage Survey, announced that the country where employers are having the most difficulty filling roles is Japan, by far. In fact, Japan has been the most difficult country since 2010.

Japan, in comparison to other countries in Asia, has a significantly low level of English capability, which impacts all organizations in Japan that require involvement in international endeavors or global markets. The technical sales, managerial, IT, engineering or design skills may exist in Japan in abundance, but the inability to communicate efficiently in a common global language like English can often slow down the pace of cross-boundary projects. And one of the biggest cross-boundary projects to hit Japan, perhaps the biggest, will be the 2020 Olympics.

Right now, the number of people in the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (TOCOG) who can interact with members of the IOC and individual National Organizing Committees has got to be low – in other words, so much is dependent on the few people who can speak English.

In 2020, who will be the ones who will coordinate with all of the visiting national teams, the international press, the highly technical demands of the dozens of international sports federations, the thousands of foreign athletes, and the tens of thousands of foreign tourists that arrive en masse for a few weeks in July, 2016?

More interestingly, what innovative ideas will emerge in the coming four years that will help Japan meet the demanding requirements of Tokyo 2020? What technologies will emerge as game changing? What tweaks to hiring or immigration policies will be revealed?

The Olympics can be a wonderful opportunity for change and growth in Japan.


2016 was the year when the entire Russian track and field team was banned from the Olympics. The evidence was so strong that the IAAF took the bold step of enacting the ban, affirming the report by the World Anti-Doping Agency. WADA accused the Russian government of a state-sponsored program to use drugs in the development of their athletes and then to cover up the drug use through illicit techniques to avoid positive drug tests.

So one would think that the Rio 2016 organizing committee and the IOC would be well prepared to ensure that officials were doing their very best to ensure a level playing field for all “clean” athletes. And yet, one could say that the state of drug testing in the run up to Rio and during the Rio Olympics was chaos.

According to this BBC article:

  • Of the 11,470 athletes, over 40% or 4,125 athletes had no record of any drug testing in 2016.
  • Of those 4,125 athletes, almost half of them were competing in so-called “higher-risk sports” (e.g.: track and field, swimming, weightlifting, cycling).

Again, those are pre-Rio Olympic numbers and a black mark on the IOC, sports governing bodies, as well as anti-doping agencies.

But during the Rio Olympics, the anti-doping processes were apparently a mess.

  • Again, there was little or no in-competition testing for athletes in “higher-risk sports”
  • Of the 11,300 athletes in Rio, only 4,800 were providing information of their whereabouts, a step required of athletes and necessary to allow drug testing officials, aka chaperones, to locate and request drug testing on demand
  • The above resulted in the failure to test about 50% of targeted athletes every day during the Olympics because athletes could not be located (Chaperones were forced to ask team officials where the athletes were, which likely allowed athletes to know in advance that a test was forthcoming)
  • Nearly 100 samples were mislabeled and therefore invalid
  • The team fell nearly 500 tests short of their minimal requirements

Nick Butler of Inside the Games had this interesting perspective:

Two key questions here concern to what extent these problems were avoidable from the IOC perspective and to what extent this fundamentally affected the efficiency of the anti-doping operation at Rio 2016. 

To some extent, there appears little the IOC and other sports officials could have changed the approach of the organisers. Brazil and chaotic preparation are just too closely entwined and, when the budget cuts and political disruption is considered, it is a miracle the Olympic and Paralympic Games happened at all.

Yet, on the other hand, the IOC had seven years to get this one right and were not exactly strapped for cash to provide more support.

Will Tokyo2020 get it right?

Trump carries the torch in New York prior to the 2004 Olympics in Athens Bryan Bedder/Getty

Donald Trump will be the president of the United States from the beginning of 2017. The impact of this surprising and historic election will be particularly clear and significant regarding the role of government, US tax policies and decisions by the Supreme Court. Way down on the list is Trump’s impact on sport.

But this is a sports blog, so here we go.

One of the leading candidates for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games is Los Angeles. The support of US presidents has always been important to the selection committee. But rarely has the character of the president been an issue. The International Olympic Committee (IOC), the body that governs the Olympic Games and is the decision maker for which cities host the Games, is built on the values of diversity and inclusiveness. What president-elect Trump has said during the campaign could come back to haunt the US bid.

IOC president, Thomas Bach, said the following in this BBC article:

“An America that turns inward, like any country that turns inward, isn’t good for world peace, isn’t good for progress, isn’t good for all of us.” Bach also spoke in the summer about a “world of selfishness where certain people claim to be superior to others”. That was seen as a clear reference to Trump’s proposed plans that include potential restrictions on Muslim immigration and the deportation of millions of illegal immigrants.

The mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, who is a Democrat and supporter of Hillary Clinton, Trump’s rival for the presidency, said in August in this Bloomberg article, “For some of the IOC members, they would say, ‘Wait a second, can we go to a country like that, where we’ve heard things that we take offense to?”’

But another IOC member and head of the World Anti-Doping Agency, Craig Reedie, put it this way. “It’s far too early to make any judgment. I would find it hard to believe everything said in a hotly contested election would come to pass. Let’s wait and see.”

There may be more practical issues the IOC may have to take into account, like who will pay for the significant security bill, according to the blog, Inside the Rings. “While Los Angeles doesn’t need the help of the White House to fund construction or other critical projects, the federal government still will need to spend as much as a $1 billion or more for security for the Games. Soon after Trump takes office in January, LA 2024 will need assurances from the new president that he is willing to make that commitment. Given the sharp political differences between Trump and the LA leadership, this is not a certainty.”

Is the American bid for 2024 in trouble? Will Paris or Budapest trump LA? Donald Trump gets inaugurated in January. The IOC votes on the selection of the 2024 Games in September. We shall see.

Phil Heath, front and back

It’s not about power. It’s about beauty. Beauty, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. But in the world of bodybuilding, beauty is massive muscles, ripples, depth of crevices between bulges and striations, as well as a pleasing symmetry to the entire body.

To others, it may seem grotesque, a CGI-like exaggeration of what a super-hero body could look like. But to fans and practitioners, bodybuilding, particularly competitive bodybuilding is a way of life.

American Tommy Kono, who won two golds and a silver in weightlifting at the 1952, 1956 and 1960 Olympics, was also a four-time Mr. Universe body builder. Kono was a hero to Arnold Schwarzenegger, who went on to become an international phenomenon in the groundbreaking documentary, Pumping Iron. Schwarzenegger would win the Mr. Olympia trophy seven times. The current champion, Phil Heath, has won it six times in a row. According to this fascinating look at Heath and the world of bodybuilding in The New York Times, at the age of 36, believes he can surpass Lee Haney and Ronnie Coleman, who have both won eight “Sandows“, the name of the Mr. Olympia trophy.

Heath has 22-inch biceps. His thighs are 32-inches each, both bigger in circumference than his waist. He is a few inches taller than me, weighs about 100 pounds more than me – but his waistline at 29 inches is 4 inches slimmer than mine. I make sure I exercise nearly every day, and eat reasonably well, but I don’t see myself ever getting back to 29 inches. Not that I’m comparing.

Competitive bodybuilding is all about maintaining and shaping the body, as well as being fully aware of how the body moves, and the muscles flex and modulate. “’It’s not about the weight, it’s about the movement,’ he said (in the article). He looked at himself carefully in the mirror between sets.” In fact, one of the keys to competitive bodybuilding is that you have to always be looking at yourself.

The article explains how he has pictures taken of him from behind and underneath his body so that he focus on the shape and movement of areas he cannot see. Even for the New York Times, he allowed only a handful of photos to be shot, as he does not want any photos of imperfection to become fodder for the internet trolls. “That can be hard to control in the age of iPhones and Facebook, but Heath’s living is entirely built on appearance. Every striation and crevice, every pimple and imperfection, will be scrutinized, praised or criticized.”

Diet is important to competitive body builders, not only to build the right kind of muscles, but also to look exquisite on the day of competition. “’Imagine eating a pound of food, eight times a day, with no fluid,’ he said. The effect of last-minute water loss is that the skin acts like shrink-wrap, showing every fiber of muscle and a maze of veins. The stress on the body and of the competition itself has sometimes left him with little memory of the two-day competition.”


But the world of bodybuilding can be rewarding financially, at least for the winners. According to the Times, Heath has five sponsors, and earns over a million dollars a year, something he hopes to continue to do for the next five to ten years. Age will take its toll, and one would assume in today’s day and age of doping, that it is rampant in the world of body building. Heath’s reply was curt: “Everybody is going to do what they do. But we get tested.” And the International Federation of Bodybuilding Professional League (IFBB) does, based on the World Anti-Doping Agency guidelines. So bodybuilders are randomly tested.

But fans of bodybuilders are less concerned about performance enhancing drugs. As the article points out, “Fans of Mr. Olympia do not seem caught up in the issue, perhaps because the sport is entirely about aesthetics, not strength or performance.”

So Heath and his fellow competitors continue to eat meticulously, shape muscles with laser-like focus, and search in front of mirrors constantly for imperfection. “The slightest change in a muscle, just a stripe in a striation is noticed.”

Well, that’s one worry I don’t have.

Olga Karasyova

When famed Czech gymnast, Vera Caslavska, passed away last month, there was a section in a Guardian article about Caslavska that shocked me. In 1968, the Soviet Union’s women’s gymnastics team defeated the Czech team to take gold at the Mexico City Olympics. The Soviet team was said to have apparently employed a most horrifying doping technique.

To counter Caslavska and her team-mates, the Soviets took extreme measures. “In any other country it would have been called rape,” one of the Soviet coaches said a quarter of a century later, after one of the gymnasts had told a German television interviewer what happened.

Doctors had discovered that pregnant women could gain an advantage in muscle power, suppleness and lung capacity, because they produced more red blood cells. So all the gymnasts, two of whom were 15 at the time, were forced to become pregnant before the Olympics: if they did not have a husband or boyfriend, they were made to have sex with a male coach. Anyone who refused was thrown off the team.

After 10 weeks of pregnancy every gymnast had an abortion. They won the team gold medal by a fraction of a point, with Czechoslovakia second.


This can’t be true, I thought. But it was reported in a major newspaper, I rationalized. But coaches could never get so many people to do this, I countered. But it’s been reported not only in the press, but also in documentaries, I learned.

The story first emerged in a major BBC documentary series in 1991 called “More Than a Game”. Then in 1994, a German RTL documentary featured, Olga Kovalenko, a member of that 1968 Soviet gymnastics team, who revealed the sordid details of pregnancy doping.

olga-karasyova-2But as Elizabeth Booth explains in this detailed blog post in November, 2015, it appears this sensational story of rape, pregnancy, abortion and hormones is bogus. The biggest hole in the story was the German documentary’s claim that Soviet Olga Kovalenko was revealing all. Apparently, the woman in the documentary was not Olga Kovalenko. The real gymnast, the one who competed in Mexico City on the Soviet gold-medal winning team, took a Russian sports magazine to court in proving that she was not a victim of rape doping.

Here’s how Kovalenko explained her surprise at this incredible story in a 2001 interviewa 2001 interview with a Russian journalist:

Once, German broadcaster RTL screened an interview … with my double!   A certain woman who said that she was Olympic champion in gymnastics, Olga Kovalenko.  (I actually took the surname of my second husband, but then divorced and again became Karaseva.). She gave a sensational interview, saying that the USSR coach forced the girls to get pregnant and then at the ninth or tenth week to have an abortion!  Doctors know that at these times there is a sharp increase in the levels of male hormones in the woman’s body, which in girls increases physical strength and brings new resources of life, a feeling of elation. It is meant to be a kind of doping. “That’s how we won,” – these are the words of the imaginary “Kovalenko”.

Of course, this interview was published by many news agencies, newspapers and magazines. The Moscow correspondent of the Spanish newspaper “ABC” Juan Jimenez de Partha somehow tracked down my phone and asked about the meeting. Imagine his disappointment when I told him it’s easy to prove that it is a pure fake. At the time, when my “understudy” was broadcasting live on abortion, I was on a sea cruise.  There is evidence in my passport!

Then “Paris Match” reporter Michel Peyrard, who had seen the “tremendous” interview on RTL, flew in to see me.  He was pretty surprised that I could speak perfect French, but also frustrated because he found no resemblance to the “Olga from Germany”.

In the end, as Booth explained, the suspicion of doping in the former Soviet Union was high at the time the story came out, as it is today with Russia, and thus our resistance to believing a story like this, even one as fantastical as this, has been low.

At the time the papers – quality and tabloid press alike – had little good to say about the sport.  A high profile rumour was also circulating that the female gymnasts were fed drugs to delay puberty, including one case where an ‘expert’ (we never found out exactly who) had observed photographs of a gymnast where her physical development had actually receded, rather than progressed.  The words ‘I would believe anything’ summed up the attitude of many in the press at that time.  

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
Lilly King and Yulia Efimova
Lilly King and Yulia Efimova in the aftermath of the 100-meter breaststroke finals

It’s as if people are wearing black hats or white hats. People boo when the black hats slunk onto the stage, and cheer when the white hats make their grand appearance.

In a world of gray – the state of doping in international sport competition – the Rio Olympics is turning into a morality play, where Russians in particular are playing the role of villain. Thanks to the IOC decision to allow individual sports federations to determine whether Russian athletes can participate in the Rio Olympics, some 270 Russians came to Rio, albeit under a moist, dark cloud of suspicion.

Those who are claiming the higher ground – the cleans – have been emboldened by the IOC decision to spit out their lines in contempt. Lilly King of America has made it no secret that her rival in the pool, Yulia Efimova of Russia, who was suspended for doping after winning medals at the London Games, should not be at the Rio Games. In reference to Efimova’s raising her index finger after winning a preliminary race in the 100-meter breaststroke, King said “You wave your finger No. 1, and you’ve been caught drug cheating? I’m not a fan.” King touched the wall a fraction of a second earlier than Efimova to win gold.

Australian swimmer, Mack Horton, said of his rival from China, Sun Yang, “I don’t have time or respect for drug cheats.” That prompted a social media war as Chinese fans dropped virtual vitriol on Horton, who pipped Sun to take gold in the 400-meter freestyle. “We probably just need to apologize to every Horton who has a name like Mack – because they have really copped a fair shellacking over the last couple of days,” said Mack Horton’s father, Andrew.

It’s clearly not just swimming, and it’s not just Russia and China against the rest of the world. King said that Justin Gatlin, gold medalist in the 100 meters should not be in Rio. Gatlin, who won gold at the 2004 Athens Games, was not only caught doping and suspended before the Athens Games, but also afterwards. While the 34-year-old American has a chance to claim gold again, Gatlin is definitely viewed as tainted.

Usain Bolt and the Holy Redeemer
Usain Bolt and the Holy Redeemer

Athletes are loudly expressing dislike, even disgust for “cheaters”. The crowd rain boos on the black hats. And to be realistic, the average sports fan is fatigued by the constant reminder that athletes are cheating. On Saturday, August 13, the morality play will likely reach its climax. On to the biggest stage will step Usain Bolt, arguably the most popular athlete in Rio. Bolt is universally loved for his friendliness, his love for fun and his sublime speed. Bolt is hoping to become the first ever to be crowned the fastest man in the world three Olympics in a row.

But perhaps a somewhat less obvious reason people root for Bolt is the belief that he runs clean and wins. Bolt is a symbol for the high performance and armchair athlete alike – a dragon slayer, a shining savior.

Adding to his favored status, Bolt addresses that responsibility with humility. Here’s how he responded to a question at the London Diamond Games in July, 2015 about his role as “savior”:

A lot of people have been saying that. But it’s not only me but all the athletes also. All the athletes have the right to try to help the sport, to keep the sport in a good light. I think it’s all of our responsibility. I just do my best. I try to run fast. I do it clean. I think that’s just what I have to do. I’m not going to say I’m the only savior of athletics. I just try to do my best and stay focused.

It’s complicated. Russian and Chinese athletes come from cultures where government are able to execute on top-down strategies and tactics more easily than more democratic societies. How much choice do the Suns and the Efimovas in their respective nations have in their athletic careers? As Romanian legend, Nadia Comaneci said in this New York Times video, “I don’t think the booing is really nice. Everybody is a human being in the end. I think you should respect them.”

Efimova is indeed a human being, and I hear her frustration, and I believe her pleas for understanding are heartfelt.

I have once when I made mistakes and I have been banned for 16 months. Like, I don’t know actually I need to explain everybody or not. I just like have some question. Like if WADA say, like, tomorrow, stop, like, yogurt or nicotine or, I don’t know protein, that every athlete use, and they say tomorrow now it’s on banned list. And you stop. But this is stay out of your body six months and doping control is coming, like, after two months, tested you and you’re positive. This is your fault?

Michael Johnson also defended those who served the time. As the 4-time gold medalist sprinter said in this AP article, “the athlete has been a villain and certainly has done damage to the sport. . . . I don’t appreciate that. But the athlete’s not the one that’s making the rules that allows him to get back on the track or back in the pool, or back on the field.”

But to most people, it is simple. If you’ve been caught cheating and suspended, you got to Rio by tilting the playing field in your favor.

Usain Bolt. Save us.

IOC and Russian flags

The IOC approved the eligibility of 271 Russian athletes out of 389 originally selected. That’s 70% of the original roster.

The quote of the Games so far comes from the president of the Russian Olympic Committee, Alexander Zhukov, who remarked that Russian will have “the cleanest team” at the Games.

Go here for more details.