Sat | Sep 23, 2017

Hubert Lawrence | Whither the Russians?

Published:Thursday | June 2, 2016 | 6:00 AM

Any way you look at it, the recent news of 31 positive findings from retests of doping samples from the 2008 Olympic Games is irksome. It means that the ill deeds of those 31 escaped undetected. If they won medals in Beijing - the wondrous city of those Games - they have enjoyed elevated status under false pretences.

The news broke at a time when a feather can break sport's back. Sponsors are pulling away from athletics, one imagines, for fear that the troubles of that sport's federation will contaminate their brands. To its credit, athletics is doing a comprehensive review of its procedure and is working to stamp out corruption.

In the midst of all this misery is a surprising statistic. Those 31 positive findings come from a sample pool of 454 retests. In keeping with the WADA code, test samples are held for a decade and retested with more exact methods that were unavailable originally.

If you flip the number, it indicates that 423 retest samples were clean. That's over 93 per cent. It would be wonderful if a day would come when a figure like that could be taken as an index for honesty in sport.

Of course, those tests only tell some of the story. The whole truth lies with retests of year-round out-of-competition doping samples, with catching those scoundrels who might still be technologically ahead of the tests and putting the cuffs on those who may have paid to have their doping results doctored.

The other point of interest is whether most of those 31 positives fall heavily on one or just a few countries. That penny will drop shortly.

 

ALREADY HURT

 

While that matter brews, the question of whether Russians should be allowed to compete at the Olympic Games this year is contentious. In athletics, it could be reasoned that the increased scrutiny has already hurt the Russians. At the 2013 World Championships, held in Moscow, the home team topped the medal tables with 17. Seven of those medals were gold.

By comparison, at last year's World Championships, the Russians took home only four medals, two of those being gold medals won by Sergey Shubenkov in the 110 metres hurdles and Marina Kuchina in the women's high jump.

While doping wrongdoings have led to the dismantling of the once-dominant Russian walk programme and middle distance giants like 2008 Olympic 800-metre winner Mariya Savinova have been pinpointed, Shubenkov and Kucina have so far remained unmentioned in the scandal.

They may claim that they should be allowed to go to the Games to compete. Their Olympic bids sit on a knife's edge.

- Hubert Lawrence has made notes at trackside since 1980.