Monday, December 10, 2007

The Gold Medal That Might Go Unawarded

When you devote your life to training to become an Olympic athlete the highest honor is receiving a gold medal. Unfortunately, sometimes athletes engage in various methods of cheating, and those that are awarded the gold medal have to be stripped of them. You might think that just handing them off to whoever finished second is the best way to right the wrong, but that's not always the case.

The IOC postponed the reallocation of the five Olympic medals returned by Marion Jones following her admission that she began doping before the 2000 Sydney Games.

The International Olympic Committee had been expected to rule on the medal changes -- which could affect more than three dozen athletes -- during its three-day executive board meeting that started Monday.

But board member Denis Oswald said the IOC wants more information from the BALCO steroid investigation before deciding whether to upgrade doping-tainted Greek sprinter Katerina Thanou to Jones' gold in the women's 100 meters.

Yes, I'm sure that we're all aware that Marion Jones wasn't 100% clean when she won her gold medals. The IOC is taking them from her no doubt, but what isn't clear is who will get them. While we've all heard of Marion Jones, most of us might not have heard of Katerina Thanou or her weird story surrounding a missed drug test.
Normally when an Olympic medalist is disqualified, the standings are adjusted so that the next-place finisher moves up and those below also go up a spot. However, there is reluctance among some IOC officials to upgrade Thanou because she was involved in a high-profile scandal at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

"If we upgrade her we would have to be sure," Oswald said.

One option under consideration is leaving the gold medal spot vacant.

"This is an open question all the time," Oswald said. "We have to study the legal basis and the flexibility we have."

Thanou and fellow Greek runner Kostas Kenteris failed to show up for drug tests on the eve of the games and claimed they were injured in a motorcycle accident. They were forced to pull out of the Olympics and were later banned for two years.

Without evidence that Thanou was guilty of any doping violation in Sydney, the IOC would need other reasons for not awarding her the gold.

In October, lawyers for Thanou, Kenteris and their former coach, Christos Tzekos, said investigations have found no evidence that the three were involved in BALCO and that Greek prosecutors had dropped a probe into the case.

So, for now at least, the gold medal doesn't really belong to anyone, and there's a good chance that no one will end up with it. It will be interesting to see what the IOC finally decides, especially with the 2008 Olympics fast approaching.

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