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Russian Olympians defy the odds in Rio

Russia has finished fourth in the medals table.

This is an astonishing result given that the entire Russian track and field team was excluded from the Olympics and given that so many of Russia’s other athletes also were.

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Moreover after the McLaren report was published every single Russian athlete would have been unsure right up to almost the last moment whether or not they would be entitled to compete in Rio. 

Not only did Russia have to fend off attempts by McLaren and WADA backed by a shrill media campaign to have the entire Russian Olympic team collectively banned from Rio. 

Every single Russian athlete previously eligible to compete in Rio would have had the nerve wracking worry right up to the moment of the start of the Games that they might be individually banned from competing in Rio simply because they had been mentioned by McLaren in his report. 

All of them would moreover have had to go through the whole humiliating cycle of being retested again, and some of them would also have had to worry about the outcomes of appeals they had brought to the Court of Arbitration for Sport against individual bans imposed on them.

What this must have done to the pre-Olympic preparation of these athletes simply does not bear thinking about.  To those not interested in sport I would compare it to trying to revise for a difficult exam without knowing right up to the last moment whether one would be allowed to sit it.

In the circumstances I assumed – as I suspect did most people – that Russia’s medal haul would collapse this time.  In the event it has held up remarkably. 

Whereas at the 2012 Olympics in London Russia gained 24 gold medals and 82 medals in total, as of the time of writing and with the Rio Olympics still not quite finished Russia’s medal table is still a very respectable 19 gold medals and 56 in total.

The resilience of Russian athletes in the face of appalling bullying and pressure has been remarkable, even allowing for the fact that by definition these are tough, strong minded and highly motivated young people. 

Another striking fact about this whole affair is that not a single Russian athlete has broken ranks. 

The demand made by the IAAF and WADA that Russian athletes be allowed to compete in Rio only if they could prove a totally clean record and if they agreed to perform as “neutrals” was not only outrageous. 

It was also plainly intended to encourage Russian athletes to follow Stepanova’s example by informing against their fellow Russian athletes and coaches in return for the reward of being allowed to compete in the Olympic Games, though only as “neutrals”, with the eventual prospect of a lucrative sports career in the West. 

The fury on the part of WADA and the Western media at the IOC’s decision to exclude Stepanova is surely in part because it finally buried this plan.

The fact nonetheless remains that not a single Russian athlete has spoken out or “defected” at any point during this scandal.  What that means is that not a single Russian athlete has come forward to lend credence to McLaren’s (and Rodchenkov’s and Stepanova’s) claims of a systematic state-sponsored doping system in Russia.  

The fact that not a single Russian athlete – not even those excluded because of past doping offences – has come forward to corroborate McLaren’s claims of a state-sponsored doping system in Russia despite the inducements to do so is a strong reason to doubt that such a state-sponsored doping system in Russia in fact exists. 

As of today the only evidence that there is a state-sponsored doping system in Russia remains that set out in the McLaren report.  Both the IOC and the Court of Arbitration for Sport say this report is incomplete and have said that the “evidence” it contains cannot be used as the basis for any decision to exclude any individual Russian athlete.

Lastly, there inevitably has to be a big question about what the Rio Olympics medal table would have looked like if the entire Russian Olympic team including the very strong Russian track and field team had been allowed to compete in Rio.  Isinbayeva has already sourly commented that the winner of the gold medal in her sport knows that she was only second best. 

One should not take away from the achievement of those athletes who did compete successfully in Rio and who are entirely guiltless in this affair. 

However it is surely not a coincidence that the media that has prosecuted this scandal most aggressively against Russia has been the media in those countries (the US, Britain and Germany) which judging from the medals table have benefitted most from the exclusion of Russian athletes from the Rio Games. 

Over the course of this scandal Russia has been accused of chasing medals over honour.  On the facts so far that might be said more truthfully of some of those who have been saying it.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.

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