John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Roughan: Another medal for our Valerie


When Valerie Adams is eventually awarded the medal she deserves, her country should give her another, acknowledging a quality greater than gold.

Many have remarked this week on the dignified silence she maintained in the days before it was confirmed that she had been cheated at the Olympics. But imagine the temptation that would have faced any other athlete in her position in the months before she went to London.

She was the defending champion in her event, a near certainty to repeat her Beijing success - until a rival in Belarus began to put in a series of performances in that country that could only be called incredible.

It is easy with hindsight to say the cheat was bound to be discovered, but nothing in life is certain. The detection of these substances seems to depend a great deal on the timing of the test. The Belarusian obviously thought it worth the risk.

It must have been agony for Adams in the build-up to the games, knowing it was all too possible she would be denied the prize she had worked and trained and lived for. Years of sweat down the drain because that lady was using a steroid.

How tempting it might have been to give yourself a better shot, a fair go, to even the odds, level the playing field.

If those familiar phrases were playing games with Valerie's brain who would blame her?

But I don't think she was tempted, not for a moment. While that is a tribute to her character, I think her country can take some credit, too. The Herald's files mention only three New Zealand representatives who have fallen foul of doping rules in recent times, and two of them were not New Zealanders.

One was a Russian-born pole vaulter and the other an American marathon runner. The third was a track cyclist. Fortunately, none of them was anywhere near an Olympic podium.

If a New Zealand representative were ever stripped of a medal we would never forget it. We'd be devastated. We'd blame ourselves, our values, our education system. There would be an official inquiry. It would be mentioned in every review of our Olympic participation. We would never live it down.

Somehow I don't think this will happen in Belarus. I've never been there, barely knew of the place until the Soviet Union disintegrated, but this disgrace tells us quite a lot.

There is something deeply rotten in the former Soviet Union that has permeated the politics and business life of most of its republics ever since the collapse of communism.

Citizens of those countries probably think the gangster capitalism they have acquired is entirely normal. Soviet-era television used to depict the West in exactly the hues that have come true for Russians and, no doubt, Belarusians, too.

They probably have no idea how much Western capitalism relies on honesty, trust and a sense of fair play. That is not surprising, many Westerners with no business experience and a leftish outlook on life do not realise it either.

It is more surprising that Soviet communism has not left a residue of similar values. For all its practical fallacies, communism did promote some selfless ideals.

The trouble was, I suppose, that it promoted them by enforcing them. People did what they had to and got away with what they could. And even then, their sports were suspect.

Many will remember an earlier generation of Russian women shot-putters, the formidable sisters Irena and Tamara Press. New Zealand's Valerie Young, who competed against them at Olympics in the 1960s, reckoned this week they stopped coming to events when drug-testing started.

The Olympics are a showcase of nations as well as individuals in sport. The athletes are conscious of the colours on their back and the flag they want to happily drape around their shoulders as soon as they succeed. They personify their countries, for better or worse.

If one of them cheats a competitor of her golden moment, she hurts two nations. Every New Zealander has been deprived of Valerie Adams' moment and neither we nor she can ever be compensated for that.

But to a top athlete, I think, a cheat dishonours something even more important than themselves or the people they represent. The best moments of the Olympics for me were sights of the delight that some of the leading competitors clearly found in the achievement of a rival. You sensed their respect for their shared pursuit of excellence.

When Valerie was able to vent her feelings this week she sounded as hurt for her sport as for herself. I think she deserves one of the medals they give out at Government House, the best one.

- NZ Herald

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John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald. A graduate of Canterbury University with a degree in history and a diploma in journalism, he started his career on the Auckland Star, travelled and worked on newspapers in Japan and Britain before returning to New Zealand where he joined the Herald in 1981. He was posted to the Parliamentary Press Gallery in 1983, took a keen interest in the economic reform programme and has been a full time commentator for the Herald since 1986. He became the paper's senior editorial writer in 1988 and has been writing a weekly column under his own name since 1996. His interests range from the economy, public policy and politics to the more serious issues of life.

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