As the extent of Russian doping becomes clear, former Irish middle distance runner Róisín McGettigan-Dumas reflects on the ripple effect of the crisis and says Russia must stay outside the Olympic family...
Am I surprised about this week’s revelations of doping in Russian sport? No, but I have to admit that how elaborate it all seemed is beyond my imagination.
The only solution is to ban them from the Olympics because it looks like it was a top-down operation and the majority of the Russian athletes were tied into it. If there are rare athletes who were being tested in another system as much as the rest of us were, then maybe they can compete under a neutral flag, but unless there are really stringent ways to prove they were not involved, they shouldn’t be there.
In light of the revelations, I’ve been really disappointed with the IAAF’s role in the cover-up of positive tests and with the World Anti-Doping Agency’s lack of policing. To think people in power weren’t fighting your cause or were covering up doping is beyond disappointing.
I retired from athletics in 2012, but throughout my career I had suspicions about competitors from certain countries, Russia included. It felt wrong to dislike athletes just because they were from a certain place but it was obvious; the best Russian athletes never competed on the circuit but they’d show up at championships and pop ridiculous performances.
We had to just disregard them and say: you know what, they’re probably cheating, but I can look in the mirror and live with myself and be proud of my efforts.
In 2007, I finished 10th in the 3000m steeplechase final at the World Championships, the following year I was 14th in the Olympic final in Beijing, and in both races there were three Russians ahead of me. In 2009, I was fourth in the 1500m final at the European Indoor Championships, with two Russians ahead of me that were barely even trying. The race was won by Russia’s Anna Alminova, who was later banned.
It took until 2014 for me to get upgraded to the bronze medal, but I don’t lose sleep over what might have been. There’s no point. I was really proud of my performance, though I have to admit there was a stark contrast in terms of how people receive a third place finish versus fourth. My friends who won bronze medals in Turin were on The Late Late Show and having bonfires lit for them, whereas I was left with just that internal satisfaction after a great race.
The only thing that annoys me is that it would have been brilliant for my family, coaches and friends and it would have been another medal for Ireland. Watching Irish athletes win medals on TV really inspired me as a child, so as an athlete you want to do that for the next generation.
Doping also has this ripple effect as it causes a lot of athletes to overreach. It happened to me in 2009 after just missing that medal. I ran badly in the Olympic final in 2008, a race in which a Russian athlete blew the field apart and set the world record. In a way, that performance broke my spirit. I was inconsolable. Afterwards, I remember a few little comments from people comparing me to her. I let those get into my head and decided I had to train even harder, even more than I had to make an Olympic final.
I decided I had to toughen up, push more and initially it got me fourth place in the Europeans, but soon it came crashing down. All my career I had listened to my body and it got me very far but a few weeks after that race in Turin, I felt really tired but ignored my body. I overtrained, which is like experiencing chronic fatigue, which caused my performances to plummet and I ruined the whole thing. It’s really difficult to recover from and eventually I had to give up the sport.
What I regret is that I fell into that trap and instead of feeling like I was good enough, I stopped trusting my own system and body. But now it turns out that my best would have been good enough to be in finals and fighting for more medals, at European level at least.
We need to get more severe on those who are doping. I support lifetime bans. I don’t see any other way. If you cheated as a banker, lawyer or teacher, you’d lose your licence and it should be the same with athletes. How they’re let back is outrageous. Every drug cheat and negative news story just slings dirt on our sport and makes it impossible for clean athletes to counteract.
The testing also needs to be the same in every country. I was tested about 10 times a year, sometimes more. You have to give your whereabouts for a certain hour each day and the testers can show up anytime.
They showed up when I was pregnant with my first child and even then, I had to take urine tests.
You tolerate it because you want to be part of a clean sport, but to know other athletes have no semblance of that is ridiculous.
We often stood on the line with competitors who didn’t go through the same rigmarole. I know there are issues with funding in poorer countries, but I don’t think any country should be allowed compete that doesn’t have the same anti-doping rules as the rest of us. It makes the whole thing a farce otherwise.
Unfortunately, doping is not just a Russian problem. There are some training groups from other countries that are suspect. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they’ll be a whole slew of them out of the picture before Rio, but if they’re not, it’s going to be hard to watch.
I can’t wait to see real hardworking athletes, some of who are close personal friends, competing in fair battles, winning medals and getting the glory they deserve.
In this way, the uncovering of these systematic doping regimes is leaving many of us hopeful that at last the “bad guys” are getting caught and now we can enjoy some real athletics.
I still love the sport and hope that what’s gone on hasn’t destroyed it so much that people won’t care anymore.
There is still a competitive elite sport there with lots of thrilling world class performances that don’t involve drugs; that can and will inspire audiences old and young for many years to come.
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