Thursday, 26 January 2017

A tragedy for Bolt, but for the good of the sport

Last August Usain Bolt achieved the unthinkable - three gold medals at three consecutive Olympic Games - the "triple-triple."

As he crossed the line in Rio to claim his ninth gold medal, leading home the Jamaican 4x100m relay team, the world heralded the most accomplished male sprinter in Olympic history, but yesterday he was stripped of another relay gold to leave a hole in the triple-triple. Not that it reflects badly on him on any way, as the result of the 2008 relay was overturned following the discovery of the banned stimulant methylhexaneamine in a sample taken from his team-mate Nesta Carter. Nothing was found at the time, but the IOC have retested more than 500 samples from the Beijing games using modern testing techniques and the anomaly has now been found.

What makes it even more disappointing is the fact that Bolt has for most of his career been seen as the saviour of sprinting, the man who achieved greatness cleanly in the wake of years of tarnished 100m champions (since "the dirtiest race on earth" in 1988, when Ben Johnson finished first but was promptly stripped of gold, 4 out of 5 men's 100m gold medallists had their careers blemished by drugs offences and allegations until Bolt won in 2008) and the man who prevented two time drug cheat Justin Gatlin taking gold on his return to the sport. He hasn't failed a test himself, but he's still seen one of his medals taken away from him for drugs offences.

Losing a medal because of the actions of your team-mate seems harsh, but it's nothing new. The GB 4x100m teams that had won gold at the 2002 European Championships and silver at the 2003 World Championships had to give back their medals after Dwain Chambers failed a test, but another GB squad, the 4x400m men's quartet from 2008, recently benefited from Russia's disqualification and will receive bronze medals.

The position seems to be different in other sports. Wales lost a playoff to Russia for a place at the 2004 European Championships but failed to have the result overturned by UEFA when Russia's Egor Titov tested positive for bromantan after the first leg, and last year a number of English and Welsh rugby union players were banned for drug use with no penalty being taken against their clubs. Of course, the contribution that one player in a football or rugby team cannot be considered the same as one of four sprinters in a relay team, but perhaps a similar zero-tolerance stance should be taken in all sports.
Losing a hard-earned medal is gutting for anyone, but it has to be the right decision. After all, consider the athletes who missed out on medals as the result of someone else's cheating. It's devastating for Bolt, but it would be worse for athletics if the result was to stand.