Athletes completing doping bans get unexpected chance at Olympics

Gamze Bulut
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BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) — Athletes completing doping bans over the next year will be eligible to compete in the postponed Tokyo Olympics, an unintended effect of the coronavirus pandemic that has some crying foul.

Turkish runner Gamze Bulut, for example, will now have plenty of time to qualify for a games she likely would have missed had they gone ahead as scheduled.

“It doesn’t seem like a fair punishment,” Irish race walker Brendan Boyce told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “They haven’t really missed the events they were supposed to miss.”

The 2020 Olympics were officially postponed last month for one year, with the opening ceremony now set for July 23, 2021.

Bulut originally won 1500m silver at the 2012 London Olympics but was stripped of her medal because of irregularities in her biological passport, which monitors an athlete’s blood profile. She was given a four-year ban that began in 2016 and expires on May 29 — giving her an unexpected full year to qualify for Tokyo.

“I’m trying my best to (attend) the Olympics,” the 27-year-old runner said. “I hope I can join.”

The Athletics Integrity Unit estimates that about 40 of the 200 or so banned track and field athletes who stand to gain from the Olympic postponement are international-level competitors. The AIU maintains a global list of track athletes banned for doping violations.

More than 11,000 athletes are expected to compete in 33 sports in Tokyo, with about 2,000 of them in track and field.

Boyce, a two-time Olympian who has qualified for Tokyo, said restrictions on the number of competitors could make it harder for clean athletes to earn places.

“I wouldn’t be too happy now if I lost an Olympic spot because of an anomaly like what’s going on at the minute,” Boyce said.

The Irishman protested on social media but stopped short of filing any formal complaints. British long-distance runner and Tokyo hopeful Lily Partridge agreed.

“I don’t believe in second chances with regards to serious doping offenses unless you provide serious assistance to anti-doping authorities and even then I don’t believe you should have the privilege of being able to compete and earn money from the sport,” Partridge told the AP.

However, World Anti-Doping Agency President Witold Banka said the unforeseen health crisis doesn’t mean authorities can “cherry-pick” when athletes have completed their bans.

“While an athlete cannot choose when he or she would like to be ineligible, an (anti-doping organization) cannot either,” Banka said. “This is entirely consistent with principles of natural justice and other areas of the law as it relates to sports or even criminal activity. When an offender has done the time, the sentence is considered to be served.”

Sebastian Coe, the Olympic great who is now president of World Athletics, was less definitive in comments shortly after the games were postponed.

“This is something we will need to look at,” Coe said. “I know it’s something the Athletics Integrity Unit, and I’m sure all the other agencies out there in concert with our sports, will need to think about, and that will just be another issue in an overflowing inbox at the moment.”

Athletes who have already qualified for Tokyo have been assured that they’ll keep their spots as future qualification decisions unfold.

Among notable athletes due to come off doping bans are Polish weightlifter Tomasz Zielinski and Irish boxer Michael O’Reilly. Neither returned messages seeking comment.

Boyce, the race walker, said it would be difficult for an Irish athlete to compete after a doping ban.

“Having a doping ban in Ireland is much more than serving time away from your sport,” he said. “It’s really crippling for your life because you’re basically seen as a criminal. It’s a form of fraud. In other countries, you see some athletes who are on doping bans just training normally and they’re just waiting to come back and nobody in that country seems to be too bothered.”

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Jim Redmond, who helped son Derek finish 1992 Olympic race, dies

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Jim Redmond, who helped his injured son, Derek, finish his 1992 Olympic 400m semifinal, died at age 81 on Sunday, according to the British Olympic Association, citing family members.

At the 1992 Barcelona Games, Derek pulled his right hamstring 15 seconds into his 400m semifinal, falling to the track in anguish.

He brushed off help from officials, got up and began limping around the track. About 120 meters from the finish line, he felt the presence of an uncredentialed man who rushed down the stadium stairs, dodged officials and reportedly said, “We started this together, and we’re going to finish this together.”

“As I turned into the home straight, I could sense this person was about to try and stop me,” Derek said in an NBC Olympics profile interview before the 2012 London Games. “I was just about to get ready to sort of fend them off, and then I heard a familiar voice of my dad. He said, ‘Derek, it’s me. You don’t need to do this.'”

Derek said he shouted to his dad that he wanted to finish the race.

“He was sort of saying things like, ‘You’ve got nothing to prove. You’re a champion. You’ll come back. You’re one of the best guys in the world. You’re a true champion. You’ve got heart. You’re going to get over this. We’ll conquer the world together,'” Derek remembered. “I’m just sort of saying, ‘I can’t believe this is happening.'”

At one point, Derek noticed stadium security, not knowing who Jim was, having removed guns from their holsters.

“It’s the only time I’ve ever heard my dad use bad language,” Derek said. “He just goes, ‘Leave him alone, I’m his father.'”

Derek told himself in that moment, “I’m going to finish this race if it’s the last race I ever run.” It turned out to be the last 400m race of his career, after surgery and 18 months of rehab were not enough to yield a competitive comeback, according to Sports Illustrated.

Derek had missed the 1988 Seoul Games after tearing an Achilles, reportedly while warming up for his opening race. He looked strong in Barcelona, winning his first-round heat and quarterfinal.

“I’d rather be seen to be coming last in the semifinal than not finish in the semifinal,” he said, “because at least I can say I gave it my best.”

Asher Hong leads U.S. men’s gymnastics world team selection camp after first day

Asher Hong
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Asher Hong, 18, posted the highest all-around score on the first of two days of competition at the U.S. men’s gymnastics selection camp to determine the last three spots on the team for the world championships that start in three weeks.

Hong, bidding to become the youngest U.S. man to compete at worlds since Danell Leyva in 2009, totaled 84.6 points in Colorado Springs. He edged Colt Walker by one tenth. Tokyo Olympians Shane Wiskus (84.15) and Yul Moldauer (83.95) were next. Full apparatus-by-apparatus scores are here.

Brody Malone, who repeated as U.S. all-around champion at August’s national championships, and runner-up Donnell Whittenburg already clinched spots on the five-man team for worlds in Liverpool, Great Britain. They did not compete Monday, though their results from the first day of nationals are shown in the official scores.

The three remaining team spots will not necessarily go to the top three all-arounders at this week’s camp, which is supposed to be weighed equally with results from August’s nationals. Hong was third at nationals, but if excluding difficulty bonus points from that meet that will not be considered by the committee, would have finished behind Walker and Moldauer in August.

A selection committee is expected to announce the team soon after the second and final day of selection camp competition on Wednesday evening. The committee will look at overall scoring potential for the world team final, where three men go per apparatus, and medal potential in individual events.

Stephen Nedoroscik, who last year became the first American to win a world title on the pommel horse, is trying to make the team solely on that apparatus. He wasn’t at his best at nationals and struggled again on Monday, hurting his chances of displacing an all-arounder for one of the last three spots.

The U.S. has reason to emphasize the team event over individual medals at this year’s worlds. It will clinch an Olympic berth by finishing in the top three, and its medal hopes are boosted by the absence of the Russians who won the Olympic team title. All gymnasts from Belarus and Russia are banned indefinitely from international competition due to the war in Ukraine.

In recent years, the U.S. has been among the nations in the second tier behind China, Japan and Russia, including in Tokyo, where the Americans were fifth.

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