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Hans-Gunnar Liljenvall in Mexico City

One thousand Russians are known to have benefited from doping and the cover-up of doping in the state-sponsored program to provide illicit advantage to Russian athletes, particularly during the 2012 London Olympics, the 2013 track and field world championships in Beijing, and the 2014 Winter Olympics.

The first major report on Russia from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in July, 2016 included a recommendation to the IOC to ban the entire Russian team from the 2016 Rio Olympics. As a result, over a hundred Russians were eventually forbidden from competing in Brazil.

WADA released a follow-up report on December 9, 2016 – a far more comprehensive review of the state-sponsored doping program in Russia, and it was damning. And there will likely be another round of medal shuffling – at least 15 Russian medalists at the Sochi Winter Games had urine samples that had been tampered with.

It’s a grim time for international sports – the insidious plague of doping and the lengths individuals and countries will go. It makes me pine for those halcyon days of the 1960s and 1970s (yes, written with ironical intent), when our views on doping were less sophisticated.

The first person ever disqualified for “doping”, as it were, was when Swede Hans-Gunnar Liljenvall was discovered to have ingested an illegal substance prior to competing in the modern pentathlon at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics – beer.

It’s said that he had a couple of beers and that traces of alcohol were found in urine. Unlucky for Liljenvall, 1968 was the first year that the IOC included urine testing, as well as alcohol on the list of banned substances. Unfortunately, Liljenwall took his two other teammates down with him, as they lost their bronze medals as well.

Why beer? After all, alcohol is a depressant, not a simulant. This article supposes, probably correctly, that in certain hand-eye coordination events, like pistol shooting in the pentathlon, you need to calm yourself, as opposed to gear yourself up. That’s the same reasoning why anti-psychotics are sometimes illegally injected into horses in equestrian events – to calm down the excitable horses.

Today, getting disqualified for beer sounds silly. Getting banned for caffeine too, but I suppose only to the non-athlete. My mind wonders how many cups of coffee or cans of red bull would it take to get you to world record levels…but I suppose that is not what WADA is looking for.

Caffeine is a stimulant, and until 2004, it was a banned substance. In fact, the second person ever banned for “doping” was a Mongolian judoka named Bakhaavaa Buidaa, who lost his silver medal at the 1972 Munich Olympics after over 12 micrograms of caffeine per milliliter was found in his urine. At least that’s how a lot of sources explain this incident.

But there are also references to Buidaa taking Dianabol, an anabolic steroid that provides a low-cost way of building muscle quickly. Since combining caffeine and Dianabol is a popular routine for athletes who need muscle mass to compete, it’s possible that both were in the judoka’s system.

Caffeine was taken off the banned substance list, but it is still on the IOC monitoring list.

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Team of Refugee Olympic Athletes
Ten refugees have been selected to form the first-ever Refugee Olympic Athletes team.  © UNHCR

Nearly 60 million people in the world are considered refugees. If refugees were considered a sovereign nation, it would be the 22nd largest country in the world, in between France and Italy. But in France and Italy, its citizens live in relative safety and freedom. In the nation of Refugee, citizens live in perpetual instability, with little choice where they can reside.

To highlight the plight of refugees globally, the International Olympic Committee, in partnership with the United Nations Human Refugee Agency (UNHCR) made a wonderful decision to include a team of stateless athletes, to be called the Team of Refugee Olympic Athletes. They include a Syrian swimmer living in Brazil, and another living in Germany, two judoka from the Republic of Congo both now living in Brazil, a marathon runner from Ethiopia training in Luxembourg, and five middle-distance runners from South Sudan, who all live and run in Kenya.

Over 5 million people have perished in the ongoing civil wars in The Democratic Republic of the Congo. Yolande Mabika was separated from her parents in the midst of fighting. Orphaned she ran the streets alone as a young child, until she was picked up, put in a helicopter and placed in an institution for displaced children in the capital of Kinshasa. She learned judo, and became so good that she was selected to represent her country at the World Judo Championship in Rio de Janeiro, where, outside of the competition, she was held in captivity by her own coach. Having had enough, she left the hotel started her life as a refugee in Brazil.

With the advent of the Arab Spring, Syria began its descent into a long, cold winter. Since the Spring of 2011, the Syrian government has lost control of half of its country, fighting a long and bloody fight with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), creating millions of refugees in the process. Syrian swimmer, Yusra Mardini was in a boat with 20 other Syrians attempting to flee the murderous chaos of their country for what they hoped was safety across the Mediterranean Sea. But their rickety boat was taking on water. Mardina jumped in the water with her sister Sarah, and pushed the boat to Greece. Finally finding asylum in Berlin, Germany, Mardini is training for the 200-meter freestyle event in Rio.

South Sudan gained its independence in 2011, after decades of civil wars. Unfortunately violence due to ethnic conflict has continued, displacing anywhere from 20 to 50,000 people. James Nyang Chiengjiek escaped South Sudan at the age of 13 to avoid being forcibly recruited as a child soldier in one of the various militias involved in the conflict. He became a teenage refugee in a Kenyan camp. And when he joined a school that had a

 

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Doug Rogers in the documentary, “Judoka”, by director Josef Reeve

“So far in my film career, I’ve been an SS trooper, a submarine commander, and the fastest gun in the East,” said Doug Rogers of his part-time work in Japan in the early 1960s. “But I’m getting tired of being the villain. I want to be a hero for a while.”

And so, he became the hero. Doug Rogers not only won a silver medal in the first Olympic Judo championship ever at the Tokyo Summer Games in 1964, he starred in a short black and white documentary by director Josef Reeve – “Judoka“. (This link takes you to the full-length high def version.)

Rogers moved to Tokyo at the age of 19 in 1960 after learning all he could about judo in Montreal, Canada. The birthplace of Judo, Japan, was where judoka from all over the world aspired to train. Rogers was part of a small but growing number of foreign judoka desiring to train in the Kodokan, and grapple with the university students and policemen who made up the most competitive pool of judo talent in the world.

The documentary is a wonderful look inside the mind of Rogers as he reflects on his five years in Japan, on the judo training regimen, and more broadly, on life in Tokyo in the mid-1960s. The scenes of Rogers resting in his small apartment, walking his neighborhood streets and attempting to get in a crowded train are impactful, cleanly framed on black and white film.

Judoka_Rogers Outside his Apt
Screen capture of Rogers outside his apartment, from the documentary, “Judoka”

It’s the training scenes, up close with occasional slow motion takes, that demonstrate the intensity of the judoka’s training – the opening scene when they are running barefoot shouting “ichi…ni”, when they are doing push-ups, or when they are sending each other tumbling to the mat. Rogers talks about how fortunate he was to be able to train under legendary judoka sensei, Masahiko Kimura. Kimura’s training regimen was brutal, but effective. Rogers explained that they would do 600 push ups a day, sometimes a thousand, explaining that they all knew it was unreasonable to push their bodies that far, except that, they did indeed get stronger.

As Rogers said in the film, “No one before Kimura, no one after. I’m the only Westerner he ever taught. He said I could be champion. In fact he says I must be champion. I don’t think Kimura recognizes physical limitations. He just trains beyond whatever happens to come up. For me, he says he stays up nights thinking of ways to make me stronger, better. With him I can win now.”

The humbleness of the documentary’s production is echoed by the humility of Rogers’ words, when he ruminates on life in Japan. The film is only 18 minutes long, and yet you get a quick sense from the narrative that Rogers grew from a boy to a man in Japan. In a wonderful passage where he and another judoka named Morita are filmed at an empty Budokan (the stadium built for the Olympic Judo championships in 1964), Rogers reflects on how his thinking matured.

“I went into judo trying to be tough and be strong. But I found as you get more and more skillful, the desire to act big and tough, sort of works the other way. I know I have the skill now. I don’t have to talk about it.”

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Doug Rogers (far left), Isao Inokuma, Parnaoz Chikviladze and Anzor Kiknadze at the 1964 Olympics

Rogers would go on to become a judo champion as a member of the Takushoku University team in the All-Japan University Championships, as well as at the World Championships in Rio de Janeiro in 1965. He