At this year’s Olympic games, competitors with prior doping offenses are being directly confronted on the issue, rather than being met with the relatively awkward silence that would dog them in prior years, and nowhere is this more prevalent than in the swimming competition, with such prior offenders as Yulia Efimova (Russia) and Sun Yang (China) competing for the gold.
Athletes are expressing their dissenting opinions insofar as the Olympic committee allowing those with doping in their histories to compete by openly advocating for anti-doping causes, or by acting as vigilantes and taking the law into their own hands. Interestingly, athletes’ behavior is actually being attributed to what remains of political tensions that arose during the Cold War since, whether they’re doing it purposefully or not, the West is going after previously barred athletes from Russia and China with vigor.
Australian Richard Ings, a former anti-doping official, believes that the main issue at hand here is trust, and how important it is that athletes be made to feel like they can trust everyone involved in Olympic competitions, from the competitors themselves to those who are testing them for drugs and giving them the seal of approval to compete.
At the end of July, the International Olympic Committee made an announcement that all Russians would have to prove that they weren’t doping in order to compete in the Olympics, since no one could be sure of which athletes were truly affected by the country’s state-run doping system, so it had to be assumed that they all were.
Ultimately, as we now know, the Russians were permitted to compete, and the Russian flag was included in the festivities. But for a statement like this to be made in an official capacity, you know there’s a serious problem afoot.
Insofar as Sun Yang, his Australian rival, Mack Horton, was having none of Sun’s shenanigans when Sun splashed him, trying to get his attention, claiming that he does not “have time or respect for drug cheats.” Sun was given a three-month suspension back in 2014 after taking a banned stimulant. Horton actually ended up winning the gold in the 400-meter freestyle, and while he did shake Sun’s hand afterwards, he paid no attention to Sun while they were still in the water and called his win one for “the good guys.”
Sun’s teammates were less than thrilled with Horton’s conduct, demanding an apology. Horton has not given one and was defended by Kitty Chiller, the chef de mission of the Australian delegation. Chiller agreed that Horton was not alone in his “strong views about the need for clean sport,” and that he had a right to express his opinions on the matter. Sun went on to win a gold medal of his own for the 200-meter freestyle, which resulted in expected backlash.
French swimmer Camille Lacourt expressed her disgust to see prior offenders like Sun up on the podiums, saying that he “pees purple” and that “dopers” are not welcome in professional competitions, that they should just “have fun among themselves” and stay out of competitions like the Olympic games.