‘Cheaters are cheaters’ – Fiona Doyle dismayed at Russian performance

Irish swimmer missed out on semi-final place as previously banned Russian won heat

At no point in the 12 years since Fiona Doyle first dreamed of swimming in the Olympics did she envisage this nightmare scenario.

Falling just short of a place in the semi-finals of the 100m breaststroke was bad enough, only to add insult to disappointment, Doyle’s heat was won by the Russian Yulia Efimova – who wasn’t supposed to be let anywhere near the Olympic pool in Rio.

The International Olympic Committe (IOC) had originally declared a ban on all Russian competitors who either had positive tests on their record or were named in last month’s investigation of the massive, state-sanctioned doping scheme: instead, Efimova managed to circumvent her ban at the last minute, added to the revised starting list over the weekend after FINA, the world swimming governing body, were informed of her successful appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

“Cheaters are cheaters,” said Doyle, holding back the tears but not quite the taste of sorrow off her breath. “She (Efimova) has tested positive five times and she’s gotten away with it again. It’s like FINA keep going back on their word, and the IOC keep going back on their word.


“And FINA caved in to (Vladimir) Putin, and that’s just not fair on the rest of the athletes who are clean. Who are you supposed to trust now? They have signs all over the village saying we are a clean sport, and it’s not. And I just don’t think that’s fair.”

Swimming in the fifth of sixth heats, Doyle certainly put herself in contention at the turn, lying in fourth, only couldn’t quite sustain it over the second 50m as Efimova pulled away to take the win in Efimova won the heat in 1:05.79, the second fastest qualifier behind Lilly King of the USA. That final showdown, presuming it goes ahead, should make for interesting viewing.

That’s because Efimova’s win was greeted with some ripples of applause and some perfectly audible boos as well. Doyle finished in 1:07.58, short of her Irish record of 1:07.15, but only .26 of a second outside the top-16 needed to get the 24 year-old from Limerick into the semi-finals (she ended up 20th overall).

“Honestly, coming eighth in my heat, and when only 16 go through, I knew I straightaway I probably hadn’t made it,” she added. “I just went out to give it my all, knowing you only get one shot at this. So to end up eighth is devastating, really. It’s still a good time but I knew it was going to take something even better to go through. I felt the best that I ever felt in the warm-up, training had gone so well, so to come away without another swim is very disappointing.”

Still, there was no denying the sense of injustice surrounding this event given Efimova’s appearance: the 2012 bronze medallist and reigning World champion had not only served a 16-month suspension in 2013 after testing positive for anabolic steroids, but tested positive again this year for the now-banned substance meldonium.

That ban was placed on hold while the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) does further studies on the drug, but still, her previous doping record meant she should have been her. Instead, CAS then overturned the IOC ban, ruling that no athlete can be banned from Rio on the basis that they have been previously sanctioned.

Asked if all this had soured her Olympic experience (although she will also swim in the 200m breaststroke) Doyle had to try hard not to admit that it had.

“A little bit, yeah. There’s just been too much focus on cheaters, and I don’t like adding to that, but at the same time I think it has to be put out there.

“But I don’t want to put my performance down to her. I wanted to stand up and do it for myself. And that just makes it even more disappointing, to stand up and not show it. I don’t want to say anything, lane one or lane eight, because I wouldn’t blame it on that. I was in lane eight at the Europeans and finished fourth.”

The 24 year-old Efimova was initially banned along with six other Russian swimmers, and it now appears they’re all free to swim in Rio, despite what the IOC originally declared in their decision not throw the entire Russian team out of the Olympics.

There was at least a much better outcome for Shane Ryan, who earned himself another swim overnight with an excellent fourth place finish in his heat of the 100m backstroke – his time of 53.85 seconds a new personal best and Irish record.

That left Ryan 14th best of the 16 that went through to the semi-finals: the 22 year-old, born in Philadelphia to an Irish father and who has trained in Dublin for the past year to satisfy his eligibility, is the first Irish male backstroke swimmer to progress beyond an Olympic heat.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics