athlete-holding-medals-in-the-skyThe 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics seem a long way in the past – we have since enjoyed cheering for our countries and zealously following the medal counts in London 2012 and Rio 2016. However, since the end of the 2008 Games, a number of things have changed to the medal counts for each of those editions of the Olympic Games. The International Olympic Committee, the governing body of the Olympics (the “IOC”), is presently busy reviewing the validity of the medals won in the 2008 and 2012 Summer Games. Along with the international governing body of each Olympic sport, the IOC can disqualify an athlete and strip them of their medals.

Under Article 16 of the IOC’s Anti-Doping Rules, there is a 10 year period within which the IOC can retest the athletes’ samples and, since 2000, the number of disqualified athletes has been growing due to the improved testing techniques which can now detect the use of steroids going back weeks and even months, rather than days. Although retrospective disqualifications are a relatively recent addition to the 8th century sporting event, with the first athlete disqualified for drug use only in 1968, it has become a vital part of any sporting event and the 10 year rule enables the IOC to preserve the integrity of the Games.

With just over a year left until the samples of the 2008 Summer Games can no longer be retested, the committee has been busy reviewing a total of 1,243 samples collected from the 2008 and 2012 Summer Games.

The latest round of positive doping retests by the IOC includes tests on samples provided by Nesta Carter, the sixth fastest 100m runner of all time and Usain Bolt’s 2008 and 2012 Olympic teammate.  Carter participated in Beijing’s 4x100m relay for the Jamaican team along with Bolt, Michael Frater and Asafa Powell.  Together, they set a new world record at the time of 37.10 seconds. Carter, who has now tested positive for methylhexaneamine, a prohibited substance, has been retrospectively disqualified from the race, along with his Jamaican teammates.

Earlier this year, when Bolt was asked about the possibility of Carter being disqualified, he commented: “It’s heart-breaking (the positive test) because over the years you’ve worked hard to accumulate gold medals and work hard to be a champion… but it’s just one of those things”. “Things happen in life, so when it’s confirmed or whatever, if I need to give back my gold medal I’d have to give it back, it’s not a problem for me.”

This also means that the Trinidad and Tobago team who came second in the 2012 Games are set to be promoted to gold, with Japan moving up to silver and Brazil, who came just short of the medals in fourth, have now secured a bronze medal.

This inevitably resulted in breaking Bolt’s renowned “Triple-Triple” world record – where, after the Rio Games, Bolt became the first person to ever win the 100m, the 200m and the 4x100m relay events in three consecutive Games (Beijing 2008, London 2012 and Rio 2016).

At the same time as Carter’s disqualification, the IOC announced that the Russian athlete Tatyana Lebedeva had been stripped of her Beijing silver medals in the long jump and the triple jump. On re-analysis, the IOC detected the presence of a steroid called turinabol in her sample. This brought the total number of Russian athletes being disqualified in Olympic events to 33, more than any other country.

The Jamaican team and Tatyana Lebedeva are not the only athletes who recently had to renounce their Beijing medals – earlier this month the IOC announced that three Chinese weightlifters, who also won gold medals in 2008, were disqualified for doping after their samples were retested. Cao Lei, the 75kg champion, Chen Xiexia, the 48kg gold medallist and Liu Chunhong, the 69kg champion all had to give back their Beijing medals.  Doping in weightlifting has been a concern for the IOC – since 1968, a total of 127 Olympic medals have been stripped and 45 of these were in the weightlifting category.

Interestingly, not all of the 127 medals which have been taken back were for doping and drug testing: in the eyes of the IOC it is equally important for athletes to support and respect the “Spirit of the Games”. Some athletes lost their medals virtually at the podium itself. Ibragim Samadov, by way of example, was in 1992 stripped of his bronze medal after he could not hide his emotions – “he hurled his bronze medal on the floor” and “stormed off the stage during the awards ceremony”.

Whether they held their medals for years or only up to the podiums, it is very difficult for any Olympian to post-factum acknowledge defeat and to accept disqualification. For our part as viewers, when watching the Games we want to believe that the athlete we are cheering for is clean, so the IOC’s role is crucial in making sure we, along with the competing athletes, trust and continue to support the oldest sporting event in the world. Arguably, if an athlete stood on the podium and accepted his medal in front of an audience of billons of viewers, upon disqualification eight or nine years later the silver medallist who gets the gold feels bittersweet about his victory and even deprived of the podium experience, but that is the nature of sporting events and nowadays justice could take many years to be established.

The total number of recalled medals in the Beijing Olympics stands at 43 and more could be announced soon. The IOC reported that it recorded at least 98 positive tests across numerous sports from the London and Beijing retesting programs, with more expected in the pipelines. After this, the IOC plans to open the Sochi 2014 Winter Games samples. If the MacLaren Independent Investigation Reports are anything to go by, then regrettably, the number of reclaimed medal seems likely to increase. That, however, is unlikely to surprise sports fans who understand and expect that the sporting entities will maintain a vigorous approach to catching those who cheat by doping, however long after the event that cheating comes to light.