Athletics: Stench around Ostapchuk coach's admission

By Michael Brown

Nadzeya Ostapchuk. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Nadzeya Ostapchuk. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The case of disgraced Belarusian shot putter Nadzeya Ostapchuk reads like a novel, and a new chapter was added when her coach claimed he spiked her food with steroids in the run-up to the London Olympics because of concerns about her form.

But the case emits a stench worse than any rotting egg and Drug Free Sport New Zealand chief executive Graeme Steel, for one, doesn't buy the story.

The head of Belarus' anti-doping agency, Alexander Vankhadlo, said overnight that Ostapchuk's coach, Alexander Efimov, was the only person responsible for the violation of the doping code that saw Olympic officials strip her of the gold medal that will be presented to Valerie Adams at a ceremony at The Cloud on Auckland's waterfront next Wednesday.

"Efimov confessed that he added the banned drug metenolone into Ostapchuk's food because he was worried by her unimpressive results ahead of the Olympics," Vankhadlo told local press.

"Efimov said that he did it at the training base in Belarus just days before the start of the Games without Ostapchuk's knowledge."

But Steel isn't convinced, especially as Ostapchuk's form three months out from the Games was impressive.

At the time it prompted scepticism from Adams' camp, and her coach Jean-Pierre Egger tellingly said he wanted "to keep silent on this performance" after Ostapchuk reeled off a series of throws beyond 21m in the Olympic final.

"It certainly stretches plausibility that a coach would be that naive or cavalier with an athlete who was almost certainly going to win a medal if not a gold medal," Steel said. "It's hard to imagine he would not have realised the consequences or potential consequences.

"She seemingly was throwing very, very well rather than poorly and the notion that a little bit of anabolic steroid a few days before an event would give any particular or real benefit just doesn't stack up from any credible point of view."

Ostapchuk became the first medallist disqualified from the London Games for doping after samples provided the day before the shot put competition, and immediately after the event, both tested positive.

Adams will return to New Zealand next Wednesday and will receive the gold medal from Governor-General Lieutenant General Sir Jerry Mateparae, in what will be the first presentation of an Olympic medal in this country. As many as 2500 people will attend the ceremony, including gold medallists Mahe Drysdale, Eric Murray, Hamish Bond, Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie as well as other medallists and members of the 2012 Olympic team.

"It's exactly what I wanted," Adams said. "A public celebration on the night I arrive back home is wonderful. I'm looking forward to celebrating the gold medal with the people of New Zealand, as well as my family and members of the New Zealand Olympic team."

It will bring a happy conclusion to Adams' 2012 Olympics story but the one around Ostapchuk is still playing out.

It's possible Efimov has agreed to be the fall-guy for the episode and it would also help Ostapchuk's case to return to competition sooner than usual.

She has said she was "framed" after testing positive, and a ban can be dropped by up to 50 per cent if an athlete can prove they had no knowledge they were taking anabolic steroids. She has so far received a one-year ban from Belarusian officials but the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) are yet to hand out their sanction and could insist on a two-year ban.

"If the coach says and the tribunal believes him, which is the key issue, that he did it and the athlete did not know she can legitimately claim she had no significant fault," Steel said. "The code provides for up to a 50 per cent reduction in that case.

"It's whether the IAAF or WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency), on reviewing the decision, believe there's a legal reason or lack of credibility that they can appeal it."

- APNZ

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