Commentary by Brent T. Rutemiller.
When I stepped into the pressroom there were only a few people in the room. At first I thought I came at the wrong time or perhaps the wrong room. I glanced around and saw three middle-aged blonde women chatting and goofing around in the back. It was Jill Sterkel, Wendy Boglioli, and Shirley Babashoff, the surviving members of the 1976 Olympic gold medal 400 free relay team.
As I walked closer, I could see that they were comparing feet as if they were still teenagers on pool deck in the 1970’s. For some strange reason, swimmers just hate to wear shoes.
The three were in Omaha to help promote and educate people about their Olympic story. I have been writing about their story for decades. Now, thanks to The Last Gold documentary produced by USA Swimming, the world is learning the truth, once again, about the devastating consequences and the effect performance enhancing drugs can have on sport and the lives of people. Considered one of the greatest untold stories in Olympic Swimming history, The Last Gold, a feature-length documentary, will air on NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) with limited commercial interruption, on Monday, August 1, at 8:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. PT.
It was reported in January of 2007, that one hundred and sixty-seven former East German (DDR) athletes would be financially compensated through Germany’s Olympic Committee for the systematic doping of DDR athletes from 1973 through 1989. When told of this fact back then, Shirley Babashoff‘s first comment was, “Only 167 Athletes!”
An appeal was made to FINA and the IOC at the time to rewrite the record books, strip the East Germans of their medals and award new medals to the rightful winners. Now, almost 10 year later (plus 30 additional years), nothing has been done.
Forty years have now transpired. History will be forever stained until the International Olympic Committee (IOC) recognizes the injustice.
However, on this day in Omaha, during the 2016 USA Swimming Olympic Trials, we gathered in a room to listen to the story once again.
Sterkle, Boglioli and Babashoff climbed up on an elevated platform and sat in front of microphones to take questions. There should have been a fourth microphone and an empty chair set aside as a memorial to Kim Peyton who was a member of the most famous women’s relay in history. Although Kim passed away in 1986 from brain cancer, she still deserved a place on the dais.
The obvious questions were about what to do with the Olympic medals. And Babashoff was the first to answer, “I don’t know why they made the 8-year rule.”
If someone has admitted that they cheated and they have proof that they cheated then they are a cheater. Just because it is forty years ago doesn’t mean that it is okay that you cheated forty years ago. It is a bad lesson that people can prosper. I don’t know why they came up with that rule.”
Wendy Boglioli chimed in by saying, “The consequences for cheating (today) are just not deep enough”.
“The IOC needs to stand up and do the right thing. They are leaders and they need to do the right things. They need to champion the sport. If they want the sport to continue, get better and stay clean, they need to do the right thing”, Sterkel added.
All three agreed that the East German women were also victims because they were controlled by the communist state.
“I am not in favor of taking away their medals. I do think the right thing to do is to recognize the feats of the women who rightfully received those (medals)”, said Sterkel.
Boglioli added, “It was horrific what those (East German) women went through… They were victims. I look at the International Olympic Committee, who is all about the welfare, not only fair play, but protecting the athletes, and they failed to protect these women victims as well as the cheating aspect. When you read and you know the story, what they went through… it is child abuse. Here is an international committee who is supposed to take care of everyone and they failed”.
Babashoff commented that it disturbs her when she hears some East German women today saying that “‘we deserve what we worked for’. They don’t want to come clean about it. It’s a little annoying for me.”
Listen to this press conference video when all three agree that they would welcome an opportunity to meet with the East German women to recognize that they both were victims and to accept duplicate medals in an effort to celebrate the sport.