The recent spate of Russian Olympic and World champions testing positive for performance enhancing drugs is seen in many circles as the return to the old days when systematic mass doping was prevalent in the erstwhile Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc.
The loss of face,medals and respect,however,is as much an indictment of the dope cheats as it is a testimony to the progress made by Russian anti-doping (RUSADA) agency in cleaning up the system ahead of this year’s World Athletics Championships in Moscow and the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.
Athletes who have been either provisionally suspended or sanctioned include five London Olympians,the latest of which is the 10-year-ban given to 2012 silver medallist in the women’s discus throw,Darya Pishchalnikova. In March alone,up to 20 Russian athletes were provisionally suspended for anti-doping rule violations or adverse findings in samples tested.
These numbers highlight the co-operation by Russian officials and sports administrations,previously regarded to be a part of the inner circle of systematic doping,when the Iron Curtain was firmly in place,
Olympic medalists from previous editions too haven’t been spared,with Olga Kuzenkova (hammer throw),Svetlana Krivelyova (shot put) and Tatyana Kotova (long jump) sanctioned over the past two months. Pishchalnikova and the aforementioned athletes were caught in re-tests of samples previously collected (in Kotova’s case from the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki) which is an indication that the previous generation’s drug-fuelled efforts of winning at any cost has not been completely wiped out.
But RUSADA’S efforts at recording the biological passports (which help detect effects of doping even if a specific substance is not detected) of its athletes 3000 were created ahead of the London Games in 2011,the year in which legal amendments made coaches and doctors also responsible for anti-doping violations and increased number of in-competition and out of competition testing,has helped weed out cheats.
Russia’s athletics chief Valetin Balakhinichyov has stated that the world must expect more positive results from Russian athletes because the country is conducting more drug tests (4500 in 2013) than any other nation. The undesirable facts and figures related to cheating have tumbled out,and though incriminating,they herald a cleaner image for the country’s athletes.
Nihal is a senior assistant editor based in Delhi