The IAAF – the governing body of world athletics – has confirmed that "major international titles will be redistributed" following the latest doping offences involving Russian athletes. Although how soon these titles will go the way of Olive Loughnane and Rob Heffernan is still unclear.
What is certain is the increasing damage to the credibility of Russian athletics: the five new cases of doping offences revealed on Tuesday brings to 23 the number of their elite athletes caught under the IAAF’s Athlete Biological Passport programme (ABP), since first introduced in 2009. The total number of ABP sanctions during this period is now 37.
With that in mind it's unlikely the IAAF will be showing any lenience towards either Olga Kaniskina or Sergei Kirdyapkin, two of the elite walkers banned on Tuesday by the Russian Athletics Federation (ARAF). Kaniskina won the 2009 World Championship gold medal in the 20km walk in Berlin, where Loughnane won silver, while Kirdyapkin won the 50km walk at the 2012 London Olympics, where Heffernan finished fourth.
For now, ARAF are retrospectively banning Kaniskina from July 2009, meaning that Loughnane will be automatically upgraded to gold, although Kirdyapkin’s ban, strangely, only includes periods from July 2009 to June 2012, and from October 2012 – effectively suggesting he was somehow clean during the period of the London Olympics.
However a statement from the IAAF clearly indicates that these sanctions are not yet agreed “until the IAAF has received, and carefully analysed, the full-reasoned decision from ARAF to ensure they are in strict compliance with IAAF rules”. Selective periods of bans, as ARAF are advocating, are unlikely to meet that strict compliance, and with that Heffernan’s chances of being upgraded to Olympic bronze would appear to be strong.
The statement added: “The IAAF is satisfied that we have found aggravating circumstances in all cases, as we requested when referring the case to the Russian authorities; as per IAAF Rules, the cases are sent to the Russian Athletics Federation (ARAF) for adjudication.
“The number of Russian doping cases in athletics generally, and in race walking specifically, is a major concern for the IAAF and we are fully investigating recent doping allegations in Russian athletics, with Wada’s support.”
As the governing body of the sport, the IAAF has the right to redistribute both World Championship and Olympic medals, and have already done so on a number of occasions in recent years: a year after Rashid Ramzi from Bahrain won the 1,500m at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing he tested position and was stripped of that title.
, the Australian walker who originally won the 50km silver behind Kirdyapkin, has no doubt of the need to revise those London results: “Clearly he [Kirdyapin] has been doping over an extended period of time,” Tallent told Australian media.
“If I’m honest, I felt like I deserved the gold in 2012. I wasn’t going to say anything publicly, but for a long time most athletes in the international race walking community, the athletes I compete with and train with from different countries were always suspicious about the Russians. The problems there are huge and they haven’t gone away and nothing has really been done about it. The IAAF hasn’t done enough, the Russian Anti-Doping Agency hasn’t done enough. It has, quite frankly, been ridiculous.”
And even more ridiculous if Heffernan is not upgraded to Olympic bronze, and sooner rather than later.