I didn't manage to get this into last week's issue, but a front-page article in the May 21, 2008 Wall Street Journal discussed the quandary around Olympic medals given to athletes later disqualified due to drug testing. It could take decades, but it will be interesting to see if and when any nonreturned forfeited medals turn up in the aftermarket (and whether they sell for any more or less than nontainted medals. My guess is that the notoriety will actually make them more valuable.Most Olympic champions learn they are gold medalists when they cross the finish line. Pauline Davis-Thompson learned about her gold while alone in a hotel room watching CNN last October. The news: Seven years after winning the 200-meter dash in Sydney, Australia, Marion Jones had confessed to using steroids -- likely lifting Ms. Davis-Thompson from second place into the top spot.
"I got the shock of my life," says the Bahamian runner, now 41 years old. "I just sat there staring at the television with my mouth wide open." The crackdown on doping in sports is turning some losers into overnight winners. The Marion Jones case alone could bump up 29 athletes, either within the medalist standings or into them. But for the newly minted winners, it's not always a cause for celebration. Wrenching an award from one athlete and handing it off to another is often a long and tortured process. Evidence can take months to surface and appeals can go on for years; some people simply refuse to send their medals back.
French runner Muriel Hurtis might hold the record for inherited medals. The first time a doping scandal bumped her up the rankings -- from a bronze to a silver in the 400-meter relay at the 2001 International Association of Athletics Federations World Championships -- Ms. Hurtis says she was "pleased." The second time, she received a makeshift ceremony a year after the original race. The third time, when a silver medal turned to gold, she was on maternity leave.
Of course, athletes rarely demur when offered a gently used medal. After all, a gold medal can be a career-changing event no matter when it's received. It is one of the highest honors in sports and a status symbol that can open doors both socially and professionally.
But medal redistributions are frequently marred by bitterness and delayed by red tape. The IAAF, which organizes world championships, says only 10% of disqualified athletes actually return their medals. "We have no legal powers to demand or raid someone's home to get a medal back," says Chris Butler, a spokesman.
Marion Jones has already returned the five medals she won in 2000, including three golds and two bronzes, to the International Olympic Committee. But the redistribution of her medals -- the largest for any one athlete in Olympic history -- has yet to be carried out.
In some cases, reversals can be reversed, meaning athletes win, lose, then win again. After being disqualified for doping at the 2004 Athens Olympics, Marķa Luisa Calle, a Colombian cyclist, was forced to surrender her bronze medal. The IOC then passed the medal on to American Erin Mirabella, who had placed fourth in the event. Ms. Mirabella's friends later surprised her with a small medal-awarding ceremony in the restaurant of the Breckenridge, Colo., lodge where she was vacationing.
Medals have been awarded at the Olympics since the first modern Games in Athens in 1896.
To read the complete article, see: Doping Scandals Make Winners of Olympic Losers
Wayne Homren, Editor
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