Commentary by Shoshanna Rutemiller
PHOENIX, Arizona, November 30. LANCE Armstrong should have his Sydney 2000 bronze medal stripped, International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board member John Coates said recently, as reported by Inside the Games. In August, Armstrong received a lifetime ban from the sport of cycling, after the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) found him guilty of using performance-enhancing drugs.
Armstrong won his bronze medal 12 years ago. Currently, the IOC is kept from removing the medal by its 8-year statute of limitations. Here's where it gets tricky: the International Cycling Union (UCI) set a new precedent for time frame restrictions when it stripped Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles, won between 1998 and 2005. The reason the UCI and the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) went beyond the statute of limitations, Coates explained, was “…on the basis that the statute doesn't apply if you have broken the law…”
If the IOC rules to strip Armstrong of his medal, at its Executive Board meeting in Lausanne December 4-5, 2012, the decision will open up a whole new can of worms. Athletes throughout history found guilty of using performance-enhancing drugs may find that time is no longer on their side… Ahem…East German swimmers who admitted to systematically doping for the 1976 Olympics… Ahem.
This is assuming, of course, that the IOC chooses to classify all instances of doping as “breaking the law.” The Committee could very easily rule that Armstrong's uses of performance-enhancing drugs were instances different from the “legal” systematic doping of the East German swimmers.
Nevertheless, it does raise the question — once again — if the IOC should even follow a statute of limitations, should an athlete prove (or admit) to have taken performance-enhancing drugs?
Swimming World Magazine has continually taken the stance that time frames should be disregarded, especially when they are keeping the correct person from receiving his or her deserved recognition.
At the 1976 Olympics, the East German women won an unbelievable 11 of 13 swimming events. Although the 1976 Games showcased the starkest effects of systematic doping, trainers and coaches knowingly gave their East German athletes anabolic steroids for nearly three decades, impacting results at the 1972, '76, '80, '84 and '88 Olympics. Click here to read an excellent 2004 article in USA Today detailing the injustices and media scrutiny Shirley Babashoff faced after she was outspoken in her doping accusations of the East German women at the 1976 Olympics. Of the six gold medals Babashoff was expected to win, she came away with only one. East Germans cinched the other five.
Included in the article is a quote, relevant to the upcoming IOC meeting regarding Armstrong, from USA Swimming executive director Chuck Weilgus:
“Our view is we're unaware of any statute of limitations on who's rightfully earned Olympic medals. As soon as that bubble is burst with any Olympic athlete in any sport giving back any medals and therefore re-ordering the gold, silver and bronze, we think that should immediately happen for the '76 women's team in particular.”
If the IOC decides to strip Armstrong of his Olympic bronze medal from the Sydney 2000 Olympics — won outside of the Committee's current statute of limitations — the next step should be rearranging the medal table to award athletes directly affected by the East German's systematic doping. But, so far, those historic instances of admitted doping remain untouchable… or are simply too unappealing to touch.
There is a contingent of Armstrong fans appealing to stop his punishment; that he has “suffered enough” by losing sponsorships, titles and the general public's respect. However, if it takes public figures falling from grace to finally shake the IOC into correctly awarding Olympic medals, then — by no means — should Armstrong retain his bronze medal.
Contact the author @SJRutemiller
or through e-mail ShoshannaR@swimmingworld.com