Ryan Murphy’s Pointed Criticism of Russian Olympic Committee Was Warranted

Jul 29, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Bryce Mefford (USA), left, and Ryan Murphy (USA) look up to the timing board after competing in the men's 200m backstroke semifinal during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Grace Hollars-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Murphy -- Photo Courtesy: Grace Hollars/USA Today Sports

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Ryan Murphy’s Pointed Criticism of Russian Olympic Committee Was Warranted

Maybe, after capturing silver in the men’s 200 backstroke final, Ryan Murphy was frustrated. Who could blame him, since he surely expected to far surpass his marks from last month’s U.S. Olympic Trials in both the 100 and 200 backstroke? Instead, he swam only hundredths faster and missed in his attempt to defend each of the gold medals he won five years ago in Rio.

In a post-race NBC television interview, Murphy spoke about finishing second to a swimmer from the Russian Olympic Committee, emphasizing the banner under which all Russian athletes are competing at the Tokyo Games since the nation was officially banned for maintaining a state-sponsored doping program around the time of 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. That athlete was Evgeny Rylov, and just three days earlier, Murphy had placed third in a tight 100 back final behind Rylov and another Russian swimmer, Kliment Kolesnikov.

In the mixed zone a few moments later, Murphy was asked if he thought the race was fair – and while he tried to hold his tongue, he made his feelings very clear.

“I’ve got about 15 thoughts,” Murphy said, “Thirteen of them would get me into a lot of trouble. It is what it is. I try not to get caught up in that. It is a huge mental drain on me to go throughout the year that I’m swimming in a race that’s probably not clean, and that is what it is. The people that know a lot more about the situation made the decision they did. It frustrates me, but I have to swim the field that’s next to me. I don’t have the bandwidth to train for the Olympics at a very high level and try to lobby the people who are making the decisions that they’re making the wrong decisions.

“To be clear, my intention is not to make any allegations here. Congratulations to Evgeny and (bronze medalist) Luke (Greenbank). I think they did an incredible job. They’re both very talented swimmers. They both work really hard, got great technique. At the end of the day, I do believe there’s doping in swimming. That is what it is.”

Normally, winning a silver medal and then indirectly accusing the gold medalist of using banned substances is a bad look for an athlete, lending the look of a sore loser. But Murphy made clear that this was not some convenient excuse he decided to use upon not winning gold. Murphy has been an advocate for clean sport in the past, but a conversation with new FINA executive director Brent Nowicki at U.S. Olympic Trials soured him on the sport’s efforts to keep cheaters out.

Jul 27, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Ryan Murphy (USA) in the men's 100m backstroke final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan Murphy on the start in the 100 back final at the Olympics — Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA TODAY Sports

“At the end of the day, I do believe there’s doping in swimming,” Murphy said. “That is what it is. I met the new FINA executive director Nowicki at Olympic Trials, and we were talking about FINA and things they want to do to push the sport forward. He was asking for my take and I was like, ‘FINA needs to be a little bit more transparent both on the financial side and on the drug-testing side.’ He said, ‘We are working on it, it’s gonna be hard and it’s gonna take a long time to clear this sport of doping.’

“When you hear that from the top, that’s tough to hear. That’s what I believe.”

When you hear that and then, in your two individual events at an Olympics, you finish behind only athletes representing a nation that has been technically banned from the Olympics for a doping program, you would understandably be ticked off.

Unsurprisingly, the Russian Olympic Committee was having none of Murphy’s comments, and an official statement released on Twitter made Murphy out to be a self-righteous and indignant loser simply looking to stir up trouble because he was upset with his results.

“How unnerving our victories are for some of our colleagues,” the statement reads (translated from original Russian. “Yes, we are here at the Olympics. Whether someone likes it or not. The old barrel organ started the song about Russian doping again. English-language propaganda, oozing with verbal sweat in the Tokyo heat. Through the mouths of athletes offended by defeats. We will not console you. Forgive us those who are weaker. God is their judge. And for us, an assistant.”

Of course, when you have a gold and silver medalist at odds over the integrity of the sport, maybe check with the bronze medalist to break the tie? Greenbank, the British third-place finisher did not reveal too much of his thought process, but he could not hide whose side he favored.

“It’s obviously a very difficult situation, not knowing who you race against is clean. It’s something that’s part of the sport,” Greenbank said. “It’s a frustrating situation, but I just got to keep my mind on my race and focus on what I can control.”

Jul 26, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Ryan Murphy (USA) in the men's 100m backstroke semifinals during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan Murphy at the Tokyo Olympics — Photo Courtesy: Robert Hanashiro/USA Today Sports

Murphy only made his comments Friday morning at the conclusion of the finals session, and no other swimmers at the Olympics have gone on the record about the situation, but if two medalists are making such similar points, that suggests an ongoing conversation behind the scenes about potential violations that have either been swept under the rug or just simply missed.

It should not be so much to ask for transparency in the anti-doping process, but through the years-long ordeal involving Russian athletes, little has ever been crystal clear. The three weeks prior to the Rio Olympics saw the entire country banned and then unbanned from competing, and a supposed ban this year has left every single internationally relevant Russian swimmer competing for medals, just under the country code “ROC” instead of “RUS.”

For Murphy and others at the top of swimming, that minuscule punishment was too opaque for him to truly be comfortable that he was racing against clean athletes, and after finishing thrice behind swimmers from the poster-child for anti-doping violations and no one else, he could not stay quiet any longer.

22 comments

  1. avatar
    Sergio

    * ROC men’s volleyball team needs to be investigated too….
    * unfortunately, some other professional sports should be under scrutiny; decreased performance at the olympics may suggest lack of something….
    * sports that have early deaths in the past should also be under open scrutiny

    • avatar
      Misha

      Sore losing bigoted hypocrisy as Russian Olympic athletes have been among the most tested, if not most tested.

  2. avatar
    neutralswimmer

    Greenbank’s answer is completely neutral. I m not sure this type of article fueling this debate at this time is positive. The timing does make it look like it’s because he couldn’t defend the two golds…. I mean we are only complaining when they win medals, but not when they don’t? Who’s complaining about Efimova this year?

    • avatar
      Misha

      Nothing neutral at all. Does he always second guess when not finishing first?

      • avatar
        Steven

        That’s what americans do when they lose, they whine and cry like babies.

  3. avatar
    Kathy Murray

    Russia dopes their athletes and will continue
    to do that, because they can’t compete against
    our amazing and hardworking athletes. This is
    common knowledge and the answer is to test the
    Russian Athletes after a win! It is absolutely ridiculous to expect OUR well trained athletes to be denied a
    win or a medal because of Russian cheating. They
    refuse to stop doping and I would imagine it is very
    difficult to be a Russian athlete who wants to win legally and fairly to be forced to cheat.

    • avatar
      Misha

      You’re an arrogantly ignorant bigot. They’ve been extensively tested you fraud.

      • avatar
        Саша

        как вы думаете, такое поведение добавляет что-нибудь к вашим аргументам? проявите немного самоуважения и перестаньте позорить свою родину!

    • avatar
      Lela

      Just because they caught some sportsmen with doping doesn’t mean that all of them use illegal substances. And also it doesn’t mean that people who aren’t caught or checked are clean. By the name, I’d say you are English or American. How sure are you that no American athlete uses doping. US athletics has had loads of bans and taken away medals because of doping. Cycling as well

    • avatar
      Natalia

      😂😂😂😂😂😂😂
      US Athletes very far from being clean. Take some
      ADHD drugs out of Olympics and they simply can’t
      perform. Forgot to mention about medication for
      Asthma….., Just happened that 90 percent strangle
      from that too 😂😂😂😂😂😂

  4. avatar
    Globalswimmer

    Greenbank’s response is neutral. And the article trying to steer this debate is not great, both in terms of timing (he couldn’t defend this gold medals) and substance (we knew Russians are competing under that banner). The corolary seems to be we don’t like them competing when they win, but we don’t talk about it when they don’t (like noone’s commenting on Efimova this year).

  5. avatar
    Unbiased

    Ryan Murphy is a poor loser. I wish he never wins anything. He is provoked and comments very poorly. Wada is there to police the cheaters and Russian have doped that shouldn’t be reason to stigmatize every winner coming out of Russia.

    • avatar
      Misha

      So true. Dave Rieder is a flack, who promotes bigotry.

    • avatar
      Bob

      Why will it take time to make the sport transparent on drug testing and the financial side? I can think of only one reason. FINA is corrupt. How can a country get banned and then allowed to compete under their acronym? This is fair to the athletes? The cheaters are known.

  6. avatar
    Penalties with no Teeth

    I wonder if this is the same Russian spokesperson who, when originally accused of widespread doping after the 2014 Sochi Olympics, stated “I would say that these statements seem completely proofless and aren’t based on any sort of information deserving trust and are not backed by any sort of argumentation.” And then they were caught red-handed lying and doping, and are now serving a 2-year non-ban ban.

    • avatar
      Misha

      So you believe Rodchenkov who was fired from his position in Russia before The New York Times made him into a hero?

      Russia is in the Olympics because the claims against it are suspect. The ROC designation is indicative of the bigoted arrogance, ignorance and hypocrisy exhibited in the above article and some of the comments at this thread.

    • avatar
      scott nillissen

      “Caught red handed” Have you seen the flimsy evidence in that case? The US embraced the ranting of one man as evidence for state sponsored doping. The ban was cut in half for good reason, and of the 43 Russian athletes accused of doping at Sochi, 33 had the sanctions overturned for lack of any evidence, including blood and urine samples.

  7. avatar
    Anonymous

    So let’s see….your country is banned so you enter athletes under a new name with same coaching/doping…Yeah that’s OK.

    • avatar
      Misha

      Should never have been banned in the first place.

  8. avatar
    AJ

    If the situation was reversed and the Russian Swimmer was criticizing the USA Swimming organization’s cover up of coaches sexually abusing athletes for decades, the Americans on their high horses would be livid.

    • avatar
      Bob

      Russian doping is a problem. When a Russian wins in swimming, everyone wonders to what extent doping is involved. Same with China, and I’m sure it goes on in most if not every country. That’s why FINA needs to do its job or step aside.

  9. avatar
    Sanele

    Funny how Americans / English use WADA or sporting disciplinary comitte to get rid of athletes from China Russia Africa imagine banning a swimmi g for 8 years because he smashed a sample from being tested by an unauthorized personnel he ddnt even test positive for hp drugs they need to learn to loose in peace

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