Note: The opinions and thoughts contained within the Editor's Column are the sole property of the author and are not necessarily reflect the opinions of members of the American Cross Country Skiers, organizational sponsors, and/or xcskiworld.com advertisers.
Where's The Justice?
"Justice prevailed and that's the key." -- Sarah Lewis, FIS General Secretary summary of the Larissa Lazutina doping conviction.
"Technically, they are Olympic champions. Morally, it is a totally different issue." -- IOC Chairman Jacque Rogge on the three XC skiers convicted of doping at the 2002 Winter Olympics.
A year and counting has gone by since the women's pursuit race at the 2002 Winter Olympics.
A year. 365 days. And counting...
Usually enough time to get a whole lot of things done. You can build a house. You can sail around the world in a boat.
But apparently you can't get some things done in a year. At least you can't if you happen to be the International Olympic Committee.
What most North American readers will recognize about the aforementioned women's Olympic pursuit race is the ongoing debate surrounding the rightful medal for Canadian Beckie Scott. The issue is at once very simple and enormously complicated.
Scott officially crossed the line third on that February day in Utah. An historic bronze medal.But within the fortnight, the world found out that the two skiers crossing the line ahead of Scott were pumping less-than-fair blood through their veins. Russian skiers Olga Danilova and Larissa Lazutina were found guilty of use illegal performance enhancing substances. In plain language...they cheated.
As the months have gone by, now adding up to a year...and counting...both Russians have been suspended from international competition, their appeals denied, and at least one medal (Lazutina?s from the women's 30km) was returned. But over a year later, both skiers hold on to hardware they claimed just prior to getting nailed.
Over the past year the world has also conclusively determined that Lazutina had a positive sample in December 2001 for the same dope she was running on at the Olympics. Since that infraction happened before the Games, Lazutina was ineligible from the get-go...all her medals invalid.
So Beckie Scott is effectively at least a silver medalist now. Except for one thing. She still doesn't have the medal.
Yep, that's right. A year (plus) has gone by since the women's pursuit race and this huge multi-billion dollar "international corporation" called the IOC can't get it together enough to get Beckie her medal. I can walk from Canada to Mexico in a year but it takes longer than that to get Olympic medals sorted out?
The real deal here is that Beckie doesn't need to exchange her bronze for a silver. That would accomplish nothing.
Beckie deserves gold. I know it. You know it. The FIS knows it. Heck, even the head of the IOC knows it.
Both the Canadian and Norwegian federations have filed formal appeals with the IOC to get Beckie her gold...as well as the other rightful medals for other athletes displaced by the So-Ho Trio (the Russian duo plus Johann "Fiesta de Sludge" Muehlegg). That appeal is sitting on some international court?s docket. Sitting, and sitting, and sitting some more. A year's worth of sitting.
The international court could have to handle the entire legal circus of the NBA, NFL, and NHL combined and they could figure this mess out in a year.
The down and dirty truth why it's taking this long is because of good ol' fashioned politics. Not just sport politics, worldwide, IOC-doesn't-want-to-embarasss-itself-or-the-nation-of-Russia-anymore-than-it?s-already-embarassed politics. By sitting on this case for months and months after the Games, the IOC (and FIS) have taken the suspensions, denied appeals, and all the nasty doping laundry right out of the mainstream media headlines. On a certain level that makes sense. It's hard to argue against cooler heads in an insane world. But a year? Come on!
That Which Cannot Ever Return
But even if the IOC and the courts ever wake up and Beckie and Co. have the medals they should have. Even a big party was thrown in front of the global media and a "make-up" medals ceremony held in downtown SLC with rockbands and thousands of people cheering (oh yeah, I forgot that only snowboarders get that kind of treatment)...there will forever be a huge missing piece to the "justice" puzzle.
Go ahead and buy, rent, or borrow a copy of the 2002 women's Olympic pursuit finale. Take a close look at that entire 5km freestyle portion. Tell me...I defy anyone...that if cheaters #1 and #2 aren't hogging the cameras the entire time, that particular race won't go down as one of greatest Olympic moments of all time. I'm not talking just XC skiing. I'm certainly not just talking about women's XC skiing. I'm talking any sport, winter or summer, either gender. Ever.
Even with the cheaters factored in, it's an incredible show for bronze. But if the outright war that was that the race for bronze had been, as it should have been, for gold? Come on.
Imagine what happens if Beckie crosses that line six inches ahead of Neumannova with gold on the line. Can you possibly imagine what the headlines around the world would have said if that stretch to the line had been golden right at the moment? After being flat out left for dead with 2 kms left...after coming back against five of the world's best to take the lead with 500 meters left...only to lose the lead on the final downhill tuck...and then to battle back AGAIN down the line to win by six...flippin'...inches? Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me???
Bill Johnson caught a lot of flack back in 1984 when asked about what winning the Olympic downhill was worth and he quipped "about a million bucks". Might not have been the most P.C. quote, but it was the truth. Adjust for inflation and even in a little sport like XC, Beckie's gold would have been worth at least as much.
And thus we come to the dope show problem no one really wants to address.
Olympic glory is a fleeting thing. Sports marketing pros consistently say that Olympic athletes are usually only "hot properties" for a few months, maybe a year, unless they can strike a chord with pop culture. Although any medal can be marketable given the right sport, right person, and...unfortunate reality check here...the right "look"; agents will also tell you that the color of the medal DOES matter in terms of dollars and cents.
Even if the IOC finally gets around to getting around to exchanging Beckie's bronze for a silver, or the gold she deserves, what no one is going to give her is the pile of coin and lost opportunity of the Olympic moment. Beckie and every other athlete displaced, for medals or not, were robbed. No other way to look at it. The So-Ho Trio just like the Lahti Six before them along with all the cheaters over the years that got away with doping for decades, they have all robbed the clean skiers of the world of what should have been rightfully theirs.
And they are going to get away with it because we can't turn back time and turn the worldwide spotlight back on. The moment has passed.
In this case,"justice" has never, and will never, be fully served.
Those of us in the XC world that know who are the real champions (and who were the cheats...officially caught in the net or not) will forever be responsible for celebrating the triumph of the true heroes. We are also responsible for making sure the world never forgets that there are those that feel the rules of the world don't apply to them. Whether they wear ski suits, coaches badges, physician licenses, alphabet soup credentials, or the trappings of politics.
It's been a long year...and counting.