Russia's "finest" women athletes: Suspended from the Olympics for doping-related offences!
Well, yesterday I did a post saying how the upcoming Olympic Games were bound to bring up a few doping stories. I must confess, I did not think that we'd get such a huge story so soon afterwards.
It has emerged that SEVEN of Russia's leading women athletes have been banned from competition with immediate effect following what the IAAF are describing as tampering with the urine samples provided for testing. The rule in question is 32.2, and bans the women for "a fraudulent substitution of urine which is both a prohibited method and also a form of tampering with the doping control process". It would seem that the IAAF, perhaps suspicious of the Russian women for reasons we'll get to in a moment, did DNA analysis on various samples provided by the Russians, and found that the DNA did not match. Therefore, different samples, substitution, call it what you wish, it is grounds to exclude seven women from Beijing.
The seven women include some big names, especially in the world of middle distance running:
- Tatyana Tomashova - twice world 1500 metres champion
- Yelena Soboleva - world indoor 1500 metres champion and current world leader over 800m and 1500m
- Olga Yegorova - former world 5000m champion (and not Paula Radcliffe's favourite athlete - she once protested against Yegorova competing after a positive EPO test)
Of these three, the biggest disappointment is Soboleva. It was about two weeks ago that Soboleva ran a brilliant (well, at the time) 1:54.85 to win the Russian championships. It was the fastest time in the world this year, beating even the incredible performances of Pamela Jelimo of Kenya.
And OK, when the news broke of that performance, a huge part of me was sceptical, but hope does tend to die hard, and a tiny sliver of hope was looking forward to a race between Soboleva and Jelimo in Beijing. As it the situation now seems to be developing, Jelimo will likely be unchalleged in Beijing (barring her own fall from the peak she's on), and the Games has been denied a great race. If that race was only drug-induced, of course, then it's irrelevant, but a shame nonetheless (any takers on Jelimo's status? Just a thought...)
As for the 1500m event, it also loses a huge name in Tomashova, who has three major medals from the last four outdoor championships, including two golds (Paris and Helsinki). The race will of course be a little more open without her.
Russia's women: A doping flag
Consider the following facts about Russia's women:
- In 2007, the top 10 lists over 800m featured only two Russian women. As of today, they had 8 out of the top 9 (only Jelimo is non-Russian in position 2)
- Three of their 800m women have improved by over 2 seconds in 2008 alone (this is not grounds for anything more than suspicion, admittedly)
- Over 5000m, Russian women are ranked 3rd and 4th, and another two in the top 10 list this year. In 2007, they did not have a single runner in the top-10, suddenly now they have four
- In track events from 400m up to 10,000m, Russia owns 24 out of the top 60 performances. That's 40%, and in 2007, they only had 18% of the leading performers. This is extra-ordinary dominance over a wide range of events.
The bigger picture: Targeted testing approach pays dividends
Looking at the bigger picture, however, this story is another encouraging step in the right direction for the authorities. There was a time where this would never have happened, and the IAAF might have continued to analyse the urine unsuspecting. But the early reports (and these are early - we'll cover it more as news is released tomorrow) suggest that the IAAF specifically did the DNA analysis as part of an investigation they have been carrying out for more than a year.
That kind of targeted approach is paying off, and it will be interesting to see how the story develops in the next few days, or whether it will remain somewhat hush-hush. It would seem that the IAAF have identified "high-risk" athletes and targeted them in a specific testing approach.
An illusion of control over the doping process
One other point that must be made is that the fact that the women could submit fake samples means that there MUST be some kind of conspiracy or assistance from within the federation or meeting organization level. The doping process is strictly controlled, right down to the point where an official will usually accompany an athlete to make sure that the urine sample collected belongs to the athlete. We can of course remember the famous Hungarian discuss thrower in Athens who implanted a bag of urine in his bladder and ran a catheter out through his penis to falsely provide someone else's urine!
The fact that the Russian women have managed to submit somebody else's urine should be of concern to the IAAF, the IOC and WADA, because it means that the "illusion of control" that the authorities think they have is clearly just that, an illusion. These women were, if the story pans out in the coming days, able to provide samples "officially" without any direct observation of wrong-doing. Who were the "accomplices" and how did the women get away with it?
Let's hope that the biggest impact of this particular story (apart from losing out on Russia's women in the Games) is that we get a step closer to learning how the cheats operate. Any chance of collaboration from the guilty parties, and maybe a lid blown off doping practice yet again? I won't be holding my breath...
We'll keep tabs on this story as it develops, so join us then. In the meantime, I wonder if we'll get a day between now and the start of the Games to actually talk about the competition, rather than doping. Again, I'm not going to hold my breath!