THE recently concluded Olympics and on-going Paralympics have crowned countless winners, but there is one victory that has overshadowed all individual champions, and not in a good way.
What the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics have shown us is that Russia has won, to the severe detriment of sport.
As everyone who has even a passing interest in sport knows, it was revealed in 2015 that Russia had carried out a state-sponsored doping programme the like of which had never before been witnessed.
The country’s punishment, handed down in 2019, was a two-year suspension from the Olympics and Paralympics, with only a select few Russian athletes who could prove they were not involved in the doping fiasco being permitted to compete in Tokyo.
Rather than Russia competing as a nation, Russian athletes competed at the Tokyo Olympics under the banner of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) and similarly, their para-athletes are currently competing under the Russian Paralympic Committee (RPC), with the Russian national anthem being replaced with a Tchaikovsky piano concerto and the Russian flag banned.
At the time of the punishment being dished out, it seemed a reasonably harsh sanction for what had gone on. I, as many did, expected a mere smattering of Russian athletes in Tokyo.
How naive that was.
At the Olympics, 335 Russian athletes competed under the banner of the ROC, with 242 at the Paralympics.
At the Olympics, the ROC finished fifth in the medal table with 71 medals, and the Paralympic team, the RPC, are heading for similar success.
It’s hardly a diminished presence, is it?
Admittedly, these athletes all had to be cleared of any doping misdemeanours by their international federations before they could compete but still, it hardly sends the message to the world that Russia is being severely punished for what was proven to be cheating on an unprecedented scale.
These Russian competitors are classed as “neutral athletes” but many of those who were in Tokyo this summer have spoken of how, despite being forbidden from wearing the Russian flag on their kit, they are in no doubt they are representing Russia.
Alena Tiron, the captain of the Russian women’s rugby team, told the Russian state news agency: “It’s insulting … but as they say, if the flag is not allowed, we ourselves will be the flag. We know which country we stand for.”
There may be no flag but they are permitted to wear red, white and blue, ensuring the absence of the flag itself is almost imperceptible.
And that’s why, for all the winners who stood, and will stand atop the podium in Tokyo this summer, Russia is the real winner.
They have shown that despite making a mockery of the rules of sport, and their contempt for those who try to keep it clean, they have remained a significant player in the Olympic and Paralympic movements.
The ban may have satisfied some on paper but, in reality, it has meant little.
For those who were pushed into silver medal position by a Russian, or pushed out of the medals entirely, it must be a bitter pill to swallow.
After US swimmer Ryan Murphy, who was considered the favourite in the 200-metre backstroke, was beaten to gold by the ROC’s Evgeny Rylov, he said: “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.”
The message that has been sent out is that regardless of the scale of the misdemeanour, the punishment will not match it.
Russia risked carrying out a colossal doping breach and that risk has paid off; yes, they were caught and sanctioned, but few would argue the punishment has matched the crime.
Not even close.
AND ANOTHER THING
For as long as I can remember, the men’s 100m has been the blue riband event in athletics, maybe even in all of sport.
After all, is there any purer test in sport than the 100m? To watch the fastest individuals on earth battle it out is rarely anything other than thrilling.
Usain Bolt , in particular, ensured the men’s 100m was the race that wasn’t to be missed.
However, his retirement, and the absence of any obvious successor, has left the door open for the women to take centre stage and they have grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
This summer the women have reached a new level courtesy of Jamaican compatriots Elaine Thomson-Herah and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.
This week, for the first time, two women ran under 10.7 seconds in the same race and the record books show that three of the four fastest times in history have been run this season. Only Florence Griffith Joyner has run faster, although her world record of 10.49 seconds remains dogged by rumours of being aided by performance-enhancing drugs.
For anyone doubting the ability of women’s sport to provide excitement that surpasses their male counterparts, this summer has proved it.
To watch two of the world’s greatest-ever sprinters have their best seasons simultaneously is a thing of beauty and a rare occurrence.
Here’s to the pair taking things on ever further in 2022.