Sonia O’Sullivan: Set the record straight
It’s impossible to know how many athletes were denied medals and titles by Chinese athletes involved in doping practices
In his first two years as president of the IAAF, the governing body of world athletics, Sebastian Coe has taken a strong stance against doping. Medals have been retrospectively awarded to athletes proven to have been denied by cheats, and unlike other sporting bodies, Coe has vigorously upheld the ban on Russian athletes exposed in the country’s systematic doping regime.
The evidence hasn’t always been definitive. In some cases, athletes were banned or stripped of titles having been implicated in doping practices, rather than having failed a doping test. Against that backdrop come the latest revelations from a former Chinese team doctor, Xue Yinxian, that all medals won by Chinese athletes in the 1980s and 1990s were “showered in doping” and should be handed back, such was the systematic use of performance-enhancing drugs within the country at the time. It follows earlier revelations detailing a regime of state-sponsored doping.
It’s impossible to know how many athletes were denied medals and titles by Chinese athletes involved in such doping practices: few of those Chinese athletes ever failed a doping test. One person we do know was affected is Sonia O’Sullivan, twice denied gold at the 1993 World Championships in Stuttgart: she was run out of the medals by three Chinese women in the 3,000 metres, finishing fourth, before winning silver over 1,500m, again behind another Chinese athlete.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) has designated its Intelligence and Investigations Unit to examine the claims, although under its statute of limitations, is prohibited from making any anti-doping rulings on offences more than 10 years old. It doesn’t, however, prevent Wada from exposing what went on, no matter how long ago. O’Sullivan herself says it’s not about the medals any more: it’s about setting the record straight, amending the results so that those two World Championship titles are attributed to her, not Chinese athletes continually discredited from within. Coe is in a position to make that call, and bring at least some credit back to the sport.