ATHENS OLYMPICS: Shot putters and doping - Olympic ideal faces a grim test of faith
17 August 2004 , ATHENS - The Olympic shot putters go into action on Wednesday in an event which has always been seen in track and field as the most doping-prone. In the antiquity Olympics, anyone who violated fair play rules was obliged to have a statue erected to Zeus, with their misdeed engraved in the base so that everyone knew who had cheated. "That's wouldn't be a bad idea for dopers, says Astrid Kumbernuss, the German 1996 Olympic gold medallist. "Ordinary spectators can't be expected to know those
17 August 2004
ATHENS - The Olympic shot putters go into action on Wednesday in an event which has always been seen in track and field as the most doping-prone.
In the antiquity Olympics, anyone who violated fair play rules was obliged to have a statue erected to Zeus, with their misdeed engraved in the base so that everyone knew who had cheated.
"That's wouldn't be a bad idea for dopers, says Astrid Kumbernuss, the German 1996 Olympic gold medallist. "Ordinary spectators can't be expected to know those who've been banned."
Ralf Bartels, a fellow member of Kumbernuss's Neubrandenburg club in eastern Germany, says he has many an Olympic rival of whom "there's been neither sight nor sound" in recent months.
While no one can be judged guilty before actually being caught, "the finger points at several people".
Bartels, who came third in the European Championships, says he has been tested eight times over the latest indoor and outdoor seasons.
He wishes his rivals the same fate - but "at international level there are as good as no controls. It's a hot potato."
World champion Andrey Michnevitch of Belarus, he says, "has hardly been seen this year" - in common with other leading shot putters who as often as not have failed to show up for meets.
Like Bartels, three-times world champion Kumbernuss has never failed a test - while her suspicions about some of her rivals have often proved true.
Latest was Ukrainian arch-rival Victoria Pavlitch, who was recently banned for life. While indoor world champion, she had been caught in 1999 and banned.
She came back in 2001 and won bronze at the world championships in Edmonton, then this March again became world indoor champion in Budapest - only to be forced to give up her gold medal again.
The list of top performers who have been banned is long. Janina Koroltchik, Sydney Olympic champion, was banned last year for taking clenbuterol, a substance used to fatten calves.
Alexander Bagatch was also banned for life. The Ukrainian had already been banned for two years back in 1989, but went on to win bronze at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
In 1997 he was banned after becoming world champion in Athens for taking the stimulant ephedrine. Three years later he was caught taking anabolic steroids.
US shot putter C.J. Hunter, former partner of sprinter Marion Jones - herslef a suspect - caused uproar at the Sydney Games when his sample from previous months contained 1,000 the permissible amount of nandrolone.
Sobbing before the media, the 149-kilo giant pleaded innocence. Dieter Kollark, then Kumbernuss's coach, was so frustrated at the time that he believed shot putting could be abolished altogether.
Other world class shot putters from previous Olympics caught doping include South African Burger Lambrechts, Czech Miroslav Menc, Slovak Mikulas Konopka and Austrian Andreas Vlasny.
Milan Haborak, another Slovak, arrived in Athens last Friday and promptly was obliged to leave again, caught with doping hormones.
Says Bartels: "My trainer once listed six out of eight gold medallists at Olympic Games and world championships since 1996 who had been caught doping either before or after winning."
One of favourites for these Olympics, John Godina, dismisses them as "black sheep". The three times world champion is an ambassador of the United States Anti-Doping Agency.
When his US team mate Kevin Toth was caught in the wake of the Balco scandal and said he was ending his career, Godina recently said at the national championships in Sacramento that doping was "being blown out of proportion".
Fellow-American world championship runner-up national Adam Nelson complained that shot putters were basically automatically suspected of doping because "we're big and have thick necks".
Neither sanctions nor health risks look like stopping certain shot putters from cheating. In antiquity, sportsmen involved in bribery had to pay hefty fines, while there were whippings for those guilty of nothing worse than false starts.
By comparison, today's doped shot putters get off lightly.
Subject: German news