Not long now until the quiet jubilee of the most magnificently spontaneous sporting commentary in Irish athletics history. That is no exaggeration, because surely you all remember where you were when Jimmy Magee treated us to this –
"They're going for silver, they're going for bronze, and Treacy has moved away from Spedding . . . John Treacy has 100 metres to go . . .
"In the past Ireland has won bronze medals. John Caldwell. Freddie Gilroy. 'Socks' Byrne. Jim McCourt. Hugh Russell. They've won gold. Pat O'Callaghan. Twice. Bob Tisdall. Ron Delany.
"They won silvers with John McNally, Fred Tiedt, Wilkins, Wilkinson, and now for the 13th time, an Irish medal goes to John Treacy. The crowd stand for the Irishman from Villierstown in Waterford. The little man with a great heart . . ."
Wow. It still sounds amazing, three decades years later (and if you don't remember look it up on You Tube). Because next Tuesday week, August 12th, it will be 30 years to the day since Treacy ran into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, with Britain's Charlie Spedding on his heels. The marathon was the final event of the 1984 Olympics, the stadium crammed with 92,500 spectators, and the medal presentation all part of the closing ceremony.
Indeed the picture of Treacy standing on that Olympic medal podium, alongside Spedding and gold medal winner Carlos Lopes of Portugal, still seems beyond any concise praise. Treacy's performance that day was heroic in every sporting sense, not only because it was his first marathon, in arguably the greatest field ever assembled, but also because he was not expected to medal.
It’s often forgotten that Treacy had run the 10,000m heats, then the final, the week before, finishing a respectable ninth: “I’m still doing the marathon, definitely,” he told reporters, immediately afterwards, some of whom had genuine concerns for Treacy’s chances of surviving another 26.2 miles of running in the heat of Los Angeles.
Which is also why Magee’s commentary – recalling Ireland’s 12 previous Olympic medal winners in the time it took Treacy to run the final 100 metres – was so magnificent: he did realise, about a mile from the finish, that Treacy was going to medal, unless he collapsed, and yet his astonishing display of sporting memory took Treacy’s achievement straight into the sporting pantheon where it belonged.
It’s impossible to imagine that moment being lost now, or, as is happening with increasing frequency, being rewritten by some retrospective readjustment of the result. But imagine Treacy had finished fourth in that Olympic marathon, only to discover, three or four years later, that one of the runners ahead of him was caught doping, and that he was being promoted to the bronze medal position.
Clearly this wouldn’t come close to Treacy standing on that Olympic podium, in the noisy Coliseum, or beat the feeling of going to bed that night with his wife, Fionnuala, who slept with his silver medal around her neck. But consider the alternative: let those who cheated their way onto the medal podium stay there, forever, ahead of those who should be there, even if better late than never.
Three Irish athletes have now been spared this fate. This week,
discovered that he’s now due the bronze medal from the 20km walk at 2010 European Championships in Barcelona, thanks to the retrospective banning of the Russian gold medallist,
, due to irregularities in his biological passport.
Emelyanov is just the latest name in a long list of Russian race walkers to be caught doping (number 17, to be exact). They've all walked under once esteemed Russian coach Viktor Chegin, who now seems to have lost whatever protection he was getting from the Russian authorities.
Two years ago, a report on the IAAF’s own website reported that “pupils of famed coach Viktor Chegin dominated at the Russian winter national Race Walking championships”: these included two-time World 50km champion Sergey Kirdyapkin, who later that summer won the gold medal at the London Olympics, where Heffernan also finished fourth. There is now considerable doubt about Kirdyapkin, and for good reason, given he hasn’t competed since London, and was a late withdrawal from the World Championships in Moscow last summer, where Heffernan won the gold medal.
Chegin also coached the London Olympic champion in the women's 20km walk, Elena Lashmanova, and last month she did test positive. No wonder Chegin's credibility is now shot, and just last week he was banned by the Russian Athletics federation - although not soon enough, especially not for another of his athletes, German Skurygin, who won the 1999 World Championships, later failed a doping test, then died in his sleep due to sudden heart failure strongly associated with EPO abuse.
Still there seems to be more sympathy than celebration for Heffernan, the pity being he didn’t get to stand on the medal podium in Barcelona. Likewise for Derval O’Rourke, also due a bronze from the 60m hurdles at last year’s European Indoors, with gold medal winner Nevin Yanit from Turkey now serving a two-year ban – and Roisín McGettigan, also due the 2009 European Indoor 1500m
bronze, after Russia's winner Anna Alminova was banned retrospectively for a doping offence.
It is a pity they missed out on what Treacy was treated to, although the real pity would have been missing out on those medals – not just late, but ever.