Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Drug scandals give us good reason to distrust Olympics

Nadzeya Ostapchuk, stripped of the shot put gold medal, is merely the most notable alleged drug cheat unmasked so far, one of about a dozen positive tests. Photo / AP
Nadzeya Ostapchuk, stripped of the shot put gold medal, is merely the most notable alleged drug cheat unmasked so far, one of about a dozen positive tests. Photo / AP

The world came together in London and now the central reason for treasuring the Olympics - sport - is being torn apart.

New Zealand will celebrate Valerie Adams' shot put gold medal, awarded to her after another doping scandal, but you can only weep for the whole Olympic concept even while the ticker tape is landing.

On the face of it, the London Games were very clean compared to a number past. But that face is only a brave face. We've been living in a fool's paradise for two weeks. Nadzeya Ostapchuk, stripped of the shot put gold medal, is merely the most notable alleged drug cheat unmasked so far, one of about a dozen positive tests.

The old-style drug that was found is an anomaly which creates some doubt about the test results, according to our own testing agency. This means Ostapchuk's protestations of innocence have to be noted I suppose, but only with a yawn and the customary grain of salt. Whatever the long-term outcome, the drug can of worms is well and truly open again.

The testers found a needle in a haystack, and now the barn is smouldering. They've got eight more years to find out and act against whatever has really gone on.

Try as you might to see the happy clappy Games, this is difficult when fully digesting what has been said about drugs by people with inside knowledge, particularly the influential, strong-minded Canadian official Dick Pound. Pressure, obsession, glory, money, clouded thinking, bad environments - whatever the combo of factors, many athletes are still taking wrong turns according to those who should know.

For starters, the post Olympic fallout has done what other sprinters can't do by catching up with Usain Bolt. His second successive Olympic 100m-200m double has been tainted by Pound, the former head of the world anti-doping agency who has cast doubt on Jamaica's testing regime, and thus inferred Bolt and his compatriot flyers - there have been positive tests in the past - might not be on the level.

The big problem for the Olympics is that extraordinary feats, by individuals and countries, are now automatically questioned. Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen should have been an Olympic star, but sunk without trace after a "respected" American coach found the 16-year-old's performance "unbelievable" and "disturbing". No one influential, no westerner that is, appears to believe the amazingly built swimmer is legitimate. When you are bombarded by doubters, it's hard not to join them. If drugs aren't involved, then start imagining that something like genetic manipulation is.

The most famous single moment in Olympic history - Bob Beamon's outlandish 1968 long jump in Mexico - wouldn't land in sand these days. It would land in controversy. Anything amazing - formerly the beauty of Olympic competition - is under particularly heavy suspicion.

When a top establishment drug tester casts even inconclusive doubt on the most famous Olympic achievement despite no real evidence of any sort against Bolt, then pack up the Olympic tent for good troops.

Pound went further, failing to disagree strongly with noted doper, the Balco lab rat Victor Conte, that 60 per cent of the Games' athletes were using performance enhancers. Sixty per cent. If only Pound could be more positive, but nothing he says on this subject is.

Going on those figures, a giant fraud has been visited upon England, which has a bill in the billions. Don't forget, too, that Kereyn Smith - the New Zealand Olympic secretary general - didn't say all New Zealand athletes have been clean. Smith said the "vast majority" were.

While admiring Pound's honesty, he is also defecating in his old patch. Even those lovely equestrian horses start looking suspicious.

Another to cast doubt on Bolt is Carl Lewis, the multiple Olympic gold medallist who tested positive for drugs three times before the 1988 Games yet still competed in Seoul. Lewis was among about 100 American athletes who had their positive results covered up during that time - they all had colds and forgot to check the small print on the cough syrup labels. Lewis isn't entirely credible but he is a big name, he's put that name to the doubts, knows his sprints, knows his drugs. Damage done.

How long will Usain Bolt - who is adamant the Jamaicans are clean - remain the Usain Bolt we want to love, because Pound and Lewis have already partly ruined the moment. With the Ostapchuk scandal fresh, and reading the big bold print between Pound's lines, Games magic is fast wearing off. Pound has virtually licensed us to distrust the Olympics.

So applaud Valerie Adams with tears of your choice in the eyes, and look forward to getting back to stuff we consistently follow, such as union, league, the English soccer premiership and whatever else.

Brazil is getting ready to host the 2016 Games, and a friend asked this week: "What will they do with all the starving children?"

That was a genuine question, not a flippant one. The IOC should take a heartfelt role in reducing hunger and poverty, so the super-enhanced Olympics sprint through Rio having at least done something worthwhile.

- NZ Herald

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Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

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