It is easy to imagine what would have gone through Val Adams' mind a few weeks before the London Olympics when she heard that her main rival for the shot-put gold medal, Nadzeya Ostapchuk, was throwing stupendous distances in her native Belarus. She would have been suspicious of how a mature 31-year-old athlete could improve so markedly in such a short period. There could also have been a hint of panic as what looked to be a relatively straightforward defence of her Olympic title was suddenly thrown into jeopardy. To her immense credit, she has always resisted the path pursued by so many drug cheats, discredited and otherwise. Her belated reward is the gold medal stripped from Ostapchuk.
The Belarusian tested positive for metenolone, an anabolic agent, before and after the shot-put competition. Clearly, despite warnings of the most extensive anti-doping programme in Olympic history, she was prepared to take the risk. Yielding to temptation has cost her not only the gold medal but the possibility of a two-year ban from the sport when track and field's governing body, the IAAF, considers her case.
Ostapchuk was the eighth competitor to test positive for a banned substance at the London Games but the first to be stripped of a medal. According to the International Olympic Committee president, Jacques Rogge, that figure "is a sign that the system works". But in Ostapchuk's case, it is apparent that it could have worked better. It is odd that, according to Belarus team officials, tests on her in Belarus on July 25, July 26 and August 1 proved negative. The sudden rapid improvement in her performance at that time should have been the trigger for particular attention and especially stringent testing.
As Kiwi athlete Nick Willis has pointed out, it seems even more odd that Ostapchuk should have been able to compete at all given that both the "A" and back-up "B" samples from tests on August 5, the day before her Olympic competition, came back positive. In such a case, it might be expected that some action would be taken which would have meant she would be allowed take her place in the shot put only if she proved to be clean. As it happened, the test for steroids immediately after the competition proved equally conclusive, both the "A" and "B" tests proving positive. But that followed a competition during which Ostapchuk's unfair advantage immediately gave her a psychologically devastating upper hand over her rivals.
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This denied Valerie Adams not only victory but the accompanying plaudits, celebration and moment of glory she so richly deserved. She was unable to stand on the gold medal podium before a crowd of 80,000 and listen to the New Zealand anthem being played in her honour. Instead, she had to attempt to explain how things could have gone so wrong.
Her coach, Jean-Pierre Egger, struck the right note by saying he "would prefer to remain silent". He could only hope that the anti-doping system would work as officials insisted it would and that a drug cheat would be caught.
It has been quite an Olympics for Adams. Her campaign was also clouded by an administrative error that left her name off the official start list. Only an 11th-hour intervention by the NZOC and the IAAF enabled her to compete. Her performance in the shot put was below the high standard that she would have set herself. Even so, she finished comfortably ahead of Russia's Evgeniia Kolodko, who has now been promoted to second.
Ostapchuk's disgrace means Adams' gold medal was won as convincingly as that of Eric Murray and Hamish Bond. She is a true champion.