Ever since Ben Johnson’s fall, every Olympics has seen officials try to convince us that, this time, no cheat will get away with it. And, for the Russians, a clean Sochi is crucial if only to lay the ghosts of their doping past.
The 1980 Olympics, the last time the Games were in Russia, is widely seen as a dopers’ paradise. Even two decades later, the Russians were in such a state of denial they threatened to walk out of the 2002 Salt Lake Games after cross country skiers Larisa Lazutina and Olga Danilova failed drugs tests.
So it was sweet music for the Sochi organisers to hear Arne Ljungqvist, chairman of the International Olympic Committee medical commission, declare on Saturday: “It’s expected that people don’t cheat and those who do are not here.” Ljungqvist went on to declare that IOC scientists were smarter than the athletes.
Despite his confidence, the Swede should have a chat with fellow IOC member Dick Pound, the first president of the World Anti-Doping Agency. They are both staying at the same plush hotel reserved for the IOC top brass.
Pound will tell him, as he told me, that getting caught at Games is not a sign that scientists are clever but that athletes are stupid. “The clever ones do it all before they leave the country and come to the Games clean.”
Events since London 2012 justify this view. Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell and Sherone Simpson all left Stratford clean, Gay and Simpson with medals. Their exposure came almost a year later through other tests.
The unmasking of Powell and Simpson also means we no longer think of Jamaica as the island of Usain Bolt but one which cannot properly test its athletes. And now even Kenya, home of distance runners, has confessed it does not have the money for a testing programme.
But money is not the only reason why many countries do not have viable dope-testing programmes. Brazil is hardly short of lucre but it set up an anti-doping agency only very recently. And with Rio 2016 little more than two years away many in WADA fear Brazil has not given itself enough time to get its anti-doping systems going. As one WADA official put it: “Imagine what would happen if in Rio a Brazilian is caught doping?”
Embarrassingly for Brazil, the laboratory in Rio that was to be used for the World Cup has had its licence revoked by WADA because it did not meet the required standards.
We all know what Sepp Blatter’s response will be; football has no drugs problem and does more tests than any other sports. Blatter is not the only sports leader who plays a numbers game when it comes to drugs but, as Pounds warns: “People have taken refuge in the numbers. What we need to do is get away from the concept of saying because we perform X thousand tests, we have an effective anti-doping programme. Numbers do not count as much as intelligence about who is taking what and when.”
Pound was proved right about Lance Armstrong and we should bear his scepticism in mind when we are told that just because Sochi will carry out more tests than any other Winter Olympics that shows Sochi 2014 must be clean.