Athletics: Legal action a non-starter

By Paul Lewis

Valerie adams has decided not to pursue legal action against disgraced Belarusian shot putter Nadzeya Ostapchuk, who accused Adams of taking drugs.

Adams' manager Nick Cowan said yesterday that he had taken legal advice after Ostapchuk made the accusations, saying his first impression was that they were slanderous.

Adams has never failed a drugs test, never been accused of doing so and is adamantly against drug usage in sport.

"The legal advice was that it was so far-fetched and ridiculous that it would actually make a libel case difficult," said Cowan. "The reasoning was that a libel case has to show that those statements would actually make people think Valerie had taken drugs.

"In reality, her statements would more likely make people believe what I said about her - that this woman is mad.

"So the advice was not to waste money on a libel case when the average person in the street doesn't believe a word of what Ostapchuk is saying anyway."

Ostapchuk, questioned about the loss of her gold medal after she tested positive for a banned steroid, accused Adams of using steroids in 2005.

Ostapchuk denied she is a drug cheat and has now told Belarusian media Adams had tested positive for banned substances.

"She was not even in the starting line-up before the Games because she's had a positive drug test in 2005," she said, referring to the administrative error where Adams was left off the official start list. "I am being covered in dirt but someone else comes out all clean."

Ostapchuk first claimed there was a conspiracy against Belarus, then said she was framed by a former athletics head coach, who allegedly extorted money from athletes with the threat of positive drug tests. Ostapchuk said Anatoly Baduyev, the country's former athletics head coach, could be behind her positive test results.

However, it is still not clear when Adams will see the gold medal which has yet to be recovered from Ostapchuk.

There were some fears that it may never be returned if Ostapchuk or others in Belarus wanted to play difficult - by pretending, for example, the medal had been stolen in a burglary or similar mishap.

However, New Zealand IOC member Barbara Kendall - who brought Nick Willis his silver medal after Bahrain's Rashid Ramzi was stripped of the gold following the men's 1500m at the 2008 Beijing Olympics - said she was confident the medal would find its way to Adams. There have been no such occurrences in other Belarusian drug instances (see below). The IOC have also said the national Olympic committee of Belarus will return it - but no one knows when.

"There are spare medals but the IOC asks that the actual medal awarded be re-assigned to the new medallist if it is stripped from the old one," said Kendall. "That's because the medal is engraved with 'women's shot put' and the spare ones aren't."

"It will take a while," she said, "because we have to allow her [Nadzeya Ostapchuk] to go through the appeal process and all that. It is only fair. When someone is caught for drugs, it's easy to assume they have made a mistake - but there still has to be a presumption of innocence; innocent until proven guilty.

"That will be particularly so if lawyers get involved and there is a legal process, going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, for example."

Kendall said her best guess was "a couple of months" before the gold medal made it to Adams - at which time she would release her silver medal to the new silver medallist.

IN LIGHT of Ostapchuk's accusations of a "conspiracy", it is worthwhile casting an eye over Belarus' previous history of performance-enhancing drugs in the Olympics.

The Belarus gold medal winner of the women's shot put at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Yanina Korolchik, surprised by throwing 24cm better than her previous personal best to take the title.

Korolchik was unable to defend the gold medal in Athens in 2004 as she was then serving a two-year ban for testing positive for clenbuterol in 2003.

The woman she beat for gold in 2000, Russia's Larisa Peleshenko, was herself competing in Sydney after completing a four-year drugs ban.

Marathon runner Madina Biktagirova finished fourth in the women's event at the 1992 Games in Barcelona and was disqualified after testing positive for the stimulant norephedrine. She ran in the Olympic marathon again in 1996 at Atlanta but did not finish.

But perhaps the best known Belarus drugs disgrace was the double stripping of medallists Vadim Devyatovsky and Ivan Tikhon in the men's hammer throw at the Beijing Olympics of 2008. Tikhon was favourite for the gold and was the leading thrower in the world, winning three back-to-back world championship gold medals in 2003, 2005 and 2007 and the European Championship title of 2006.

However, both Belarusians lost out to Slovenia's Primoz Kosmus in the Beijing final, with Devyatovsky originally claiming silver and Tikhon the bronze. Both then tested positive for excess testosterone and, four months later, the IOC stripped both of their medals.

Tikhon got his bronze medal from 2008 back after an appeal in 2010 was upheld on the basis of discrepancies in the testing process. He was withdrawn from the London Olympics, however, when a re-testing of samples he gave in 2004 were positive for traces of banned substances.

'I won honestly'

In a revealing incident just after her gold medal victory, Ostapchuk was questioned by a Belarusian reporter. The exchange was captured on tape by the Herald on Sunday's Andrew Alderson, who later had it translated into English.

Reporter: "Has Valerie congratulated you?"

Ostapchuk: "Yes, she has congratulated me."

Reporter: "Did she say anything?"

Ostapchuk: "Rather unwillingly but she has congratulated me."

Reporter: "Did she say anything?

Ostapchuk: "No, nothing yet."

Reporter: [Silence].

Ostapchuk: "And what about me? I haven't stolen anything from her, I have won honestly."

- Herald on Sunday

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