The past five days, Swimming World has laid out the background and the evidence of just how much the East German doping regime defrauded the athletic process in the 1970s and 1980s, going as far as vacating a fifth of the most prestigious awards in the sport of swimming.
Today, we reiterate our call to the International Olympic Committee to follow its own precedents and do the same regarding the East German women’s Olympic medals.
For decades, the IOC has relied on its tried-and-true response that it cannot violate its own self-imposed eight-year statute of limitations regarding enacting punishments on past Olympians. On Jan. 17, 2013, that all changed when the IOC elected to strip Lance Armstrong of his bronze medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, more than a decade after he first won the medal. This medal strip came due to Armstrong’s incredibly public admission on national television during an exclusive interview with Oprah Winfrey in the United States.
With that decision, the IOC set a new precedent where an admission can supersede its own self-imposed–and just as easily bypassed–statute of limitations. As of right now, there is absolutely nothing keeping the IOC from using that same precedent to right previous wrongs.
ADMISSION OF GUILT
First and foremost, the entire German government admitted guilt in defrauding the Olympic movement when it settled with East German athletes for $2.2 million to offset health issues stemming from the doping machine. A total of 197 athletes elected to take part in the settlement, although thousands of athletes actually were eligible for compensation.
Additionally, with the precedent that an admission of guilt can and should bypass the statute of limitations, all but one East German swimmer is on the record admitting to taking part in the doping machine. Petra Schneider, the 1980 and 1982 World Swimmer of the Year, has even gone so far as to ask for her entire record to be expunged due to her inclusion in the systematic doping.
Kristin Otto is the lone holdout, and SwimmingWorld proved that she’s guilty when Phil Whitten exposed the doping regime in 1994 with a jaw-dropping 17-to-1 positive testosterone test by Otto in the East German Stasi files. Just for context, as we have continued to explain throughout this past week, 3-to-1 is the type of ratio that a man with a glandular problem might register, while the IOC’s positive test threshold at the time was 6-to-1. Otto tested nearly three times the positive test threshold.
PRECEDENT FOR BYPASSING STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS
The decision regarding Armstrong is not the only time that the IOC has shirked its own statute of limitations. In 2010, American gymnast Dominique Dawes was awarded a bronze medal from the 2000 Sydney Olympics a full decade after the event, two years past the IOC’s eight-year statute of limitations. That year, the IOC stripped Dong Fangxiao of China of a bronze medal in 2000 because it was found that she was fraudulently competing at 14 years of age. In gymnastics, competitors must turn 16 during the Olympic year to be eligible.
Altering age documentation has been an issue within gymnastics since the 1980s, and it really came into the international conscience during the 2008 Beijing Olympics when it was found that members of Team China may have been younger than the age limit. Although an investigation cleared those gymnasts in Beijing, the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) continued to investigate and unearthed an issue with Dong’s age. After FIG wiped out Dong’s results from Sydney, the IOC followed suit and stripped her medal.
Some might say it’s been too long since the 1970s and 1980s, where the East German doping machine wreaked havoc on the Olympic movement, especially within the sport of swimming. That argument, however, still doesn’t hold water as the IOC has altered Olympic results dating back 70 years.
In 1982, a full 30 years after his death, Jim Thorpe had his 1912 Stockholm Olympic medals in the pentathlon and decathlon restored. Thorpe initially had his medal stripped when the IOC accepted information that led to Thorpe losing his amateur status. According to Olympic historian Bud Greenspan in original reporting in 1982, “his professionalism amounted to receiving expenses of $2 a day while playing minor league baseball in the Eastern Carolina League during the summer of 1909.”
So, the IOC has definitely demonstrated that it has zero issues with reaching deep into its past to make things right.
MONTREAL GAMES A TRAVESTY
While there are plenty of other Olympics during which the drug-fueled East Germans ran roughshod over their competitors, the 1976 Montreal Games has always been the meet held up as the biggest travesty within the sport of swimming, primarily because 1980 and 1984 were marred by boycotts and 1988 proved to be the final Olympics for the East German doping machine before it fell apart.
The 1976 Olympic swimming competition was the East German women’s personal playground, as they won 11 of the 13 events. Only the women’s 200 breast and the women’s 400 free relay were out of their reach, with the American win in the relay standing as one of the top Olympic performances in history–encompassing all sports.
About the only argument left for the IOC to counter stripping the East Germans of their medals is that it is a Pandora’s Box that the international organization just doesn’t want to open. The problem for the IOC is that it already has done so, and the trickle of medals being returned to their rightful owners is only going to grow.
Maybe the IOC thinks it is too much work to go back and resolve the darkest days of the Olympic movement, with hundreds of Olympic medals potentially changing hands. But in the end, it just comes down to doing the right thing. Swimming World is vacating 11 of its Female World Swimmer of the Year titles–more than one-fifth of its prestigious awards that began nearly 50 years ago! It is also vacating 17 European titles from nine East German female swimmers.
DO THE RIGHT THING
When all is said and done, it’s the right thing to do.
So, yet again, Swimming World calls for the IOC to Do The Right Thing and Make Things Right. There’s really no leg to stand on to continue to make excuses for why the biggest stain in Olympic history has not been cleansed. It’s your own statute of limitations, and you have shown the proclivity to bypass it whenever you want.
We’ve done what’s right. Why don’t you?